There may come a time when you walk into a seven-figure job interview with as much leverage as Eddie Jordan did upon meeting with the Rutgers athletic department. But I seriously, seriously doubt it. For starters, wanting the Rutgers men's basketball job makes you a prime candidate for the position, considering the team’s legacy over the past two decades boils down to Quincy Douby, failing to make the NCAA tournament every single year since 1991, and, unlike Northwestern, failing to produce enough sportswriters to make a huge deal about that streak.
After months of waiting on Andrew Wiggins, the best high school basketball player in the country, to make his college-destination decision and set off an aftershock throughout college hoops and beyond, we are finally (almost) there. On Sunday, his high school coach at Huntington Prep (West Virginia) announced the announcement (isn't recruiting fun?!).
Andrew Wiggins will sign Tuesday at around 12:15. He will not hold a press conference type ceremony. Just classmates, family and friends
This was an exceptional year for college basketball, in the sense that you had to be an exceptional obsessive just to enjoy an average game. The wonderful championship battle between Louisville and Michigan was a happy fluke, a last-ditch saving grace for a season when scoring dipped to levels not seen since 1952, an era of short shorts and underhand free throws when there was no shot clock and no 3-pointer.* Overall field goal percentage hit its lowest point since 1964, and there has never been a worse year for 3-point shooting. Somehow, the game stopped being fun.
I am aware of how much money I am giving up. I am aware of that.
— Marcus Smart
That was my favorite quote from Wednesday's Oklahoma State press conference, in which the freshman point guard, along with teammates Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash, announced that he would be returning to the Cowboys next season.
Smart was laughing, and so were the undergrads at the Oklahoma State Student Union. But while the student laughter was full of joy, Smart's contained the remnants of the grueling decision process. His announcement had stunned everyone. As Gary Parrish noted at CBS, there's very little precedent for a consensus lottery pick turning down the NBA draft. You have to go back to Chris Marcus in 2001 and Tim Duncan in 1996 to find a real parallel; even Trey Burke last season wasn't a projected top-10 pick. As Smart understood all too well, he was turning down millions — most experts thought he'd go in the top 3 — and removing himself from a weak 2013 draft class that only increased his stock. The situation may not be so opportune next year, and of course a bad injury could threaten his career. His choice was bold and unlikely, and nearly everybody on the college basketball scene was surprised.
But some of the reactions to Smart's decision went beyond shock. As Eamonn Brennan pointed out, the criticism that followed had the ugly feel of paternalism, as though Smart were too simple to know what he was doing, or was ignorant of the business realities surrounding the situation. Which is why I liked the quote above — it was a definite dig at the analysts and fans who thought the stupid 19-year-old needed things explained to him, perhaps with some visual representation of what "millions" really looked like since the concept had clearly escaped him. That quote was Smart telling them, "Thanks for your concern, but I know what I'm doing.'
So why did he choose to come back? If nothing else, we can all agree that it represents an anomaly in the world of modern college basketball; something we could easily go a decade or more without seeing again.
Brian Phillips: At some point during the White Hyperspace portion of the proceedings — between, say, Spike Albrecht's 19th consecutive falling-away 30-footer and the moment when Luke Hancock actually turned into a flock of doves — it hit me that life would be easier if this game weren't so much fun. If you hate the NCAA (and you do), then March Madness is always a time of intense cognitive dissonance. You love the product and despise the factory. You want to smash the whole corrupt system, but first maybe you'll just spend 90 straight couch-hours mainlining the event that makes the system possible. You're like an anti-cockfighting advocate who happened to walk past a cockfight one day and felt your brain go, "Yyyyeessssssss!"
So it's always kind of validating when the NCAA tournament ends with a clunker, or at least a game that's exciting but badly played. You get to cheer for some bumbly-heroic mid-major, and then after their floppy-haired 5-foot-11 shooting guard spends 40 minutes getting slaughtered by a basic zone defense, you get to think, "Well, it's just the NCAA." Last night, though? Last night doesn't leave you any outs. Last night was amazing, full stop, end of paragraph, fade to Northwestern Mutual commercial. Last night, watching the comebacks and the refusals to die, watching Trey Burke hurl himself around with the entire Upper Peninsula on his shoulders, watching about 900 high-pressure makes, you couldn't not wind up all-in. Which means the NCAA won again. At least the officiating sucked.
If you live in ACC country and you follow college basketball, chances are you have some strong opinions about a man named Karl Hess. And chances are, those opinions are negative. Hess is a referee (the same way that Napoleon was in the military), one that was always destined for the grandest stages and the brightest lights. Karl Hess is notorious. Karl Hess is infamous. Karl Hess is KING.
His modus operandi is simple: stealing the spotlight in any and every game he officiates, and making blatantly awful calls in huge situations. His style is so controlling and aesthetically depressing that we're all compelled to notice the man in black and white. Now and again, he pulls off truly spectacular stunts. There was the incident in Raleigh, for instance, when he ejected N.C. State legends Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from the premises for heckling him. In that case, even the head of ACC officials admitted Hess was wrong. This year, Hess managed to line up UConn and Marquette facing the wrong direction at the start of overtime, incorrectly disallowing a UConn basket in a game Marquette would go on to win.
And then Hess (somehow) earned himself a Final Four assignment. When he took the court for Louisville–Wichita State, even I knew something amazing would happen. Cardinal fans were well aware of Hess's legend, having watched him give Rick Pitino a technical for yelling at his own player in the Elite Eight last season. The Shockers were less familiar, but that wouldn't last long.
With only three games left in the season, by now you should know that betting on college basketball is borderline insane. But, on the off chance you’re still throwing money at an unpredictable sport that’s in the midst of one of its most unpredictable seasons, here are five things I guarantee will happen during the Final Four games. All you have to do now is find a casino that offers any of these as prop bets, then sit back and count your money.
1. CBS will spend a few minutes discussing fired Rutgers coach Mike Rice
I don’t necessarily think CBS shouldn’t talk about Rice, but at this point, what is there to be said that hasn’t already been said a million times? Who in their right mind has an opinion that isn’t “Mike Rice is a scumbag, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti is a coward, and I still don’t understand why Rutgers is joining the Big Ten”? It’s the one topic in sports that literally everybody agrees on. I guess I could see Charles Barkley making a joke about how players are soft these days, but it’s much more likely that he would go with something along the lines of “If Rice had tried that on me, I would’ve punched that knucklehead.” Whatever the case, I’m predicting Greg Gumbel will bring the topic up, and each guy in the studio will try to explain in his own way how Rice’s actions were abhorrent.
Outfitted in a scarlet tie, and in front of a gold backdrop, Pat Haden stepped to a podium yesterday to usher in a new era of USC basketball. In the past decade, Los Angeles’s lesser collegiate program has been decidedly inferior. Since the 2005-06 season, when Tim Floyd became USC’s head coach, the Trojans have won exactly three NCAA tournament games. The program’s recruiting prize from the Floyd era, O.J. Mayo, spent one year in Los Angeles, where the revelation of improper benefits forced the Trojans to vacate every win collected during his stay. In the four seasons Kevin O’Neill spent as coach after Floyd’s departure, the Trojans made the tournament once.
That sputtering is what inspired many of Haden’s opening remarks during his brief statement yesterday. “USC basketball should be relevant,” the school's athletic director said. “USC basketball should be relevant. But let’s be honest, it has not been relevant for a while.” What better way to achieve relevancy than hitching your wagon to March’s most relevant story? The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles were the GIF’d and fawned-over darlings of the NCAA tournament’s first two rounds, and in doing so, Andy Enfield became the maestro of fun. It was a word used more than once by Haden in the first news release about Enfield’s hire. Dunk City (which USC has since stopped using, per FGCU’s request) was moving in down the street from Lob City.
Except for those in the habit of learning about the fourth coach down NBA benches, no one knew who Andy Enfield was three weeks ago. Florida Gulf Coast was a 15-seed that finished second in the Atlantic Sun and lost to a Lipscomb team with a 7-11 conference record — twice. One hot point guard and one annual Hoya disappointment later, Enfield is receiving the keys to Troy.
To paraphrase Chris Rock, desperation is the worst cologne. And when it comes to the post–NCAA tournament coaching carousel, the landscape of college basketball feels cloaked by a cloud of metaphysical Drakkar Noir. The absurd time crunch and constant influx of hot new names on a daily basis make the whole process feel less like a protracted mating dance than an outwardly raging, inwardly fraught frat party, with nothing but overeager overtures and the progressive, unmistakable lowering of standards as the night continues.
It’s nearly impossible to look cool in these situations, but somehow, USC has done it. Now, we could just flat-out admit that Andy Enfield was a mortal lock for the Trojans all along — as a guy who achieved his life ambitions of “totally killing it” in the tech and finance games and marrying a Maxim cover girl, he was already a role model for the USC student body even before anyone knew he coached basketball. But as everyone from Old Dominion to Minnesota made eyes at Enfield over the past couple weeks, USC came out of nowhere on Monday night and pulled an "Is That Yo Chick?" move. Who cares if Enfield is grabbing this job off the back of just two wins, or that USC’s basketball team is on probation as often as Gucci Mane? They look cool, unlike these five programs who might need to hire Phil Jackson to counteract the effects of a coaching search that reeks of desperation.
At this time of year, the fervor of the college-versus-the-NBA debate typically reaches its peak. The professional game may lack a certain emotional draw, but there is no denying that the quality of strategy at basketball’s highest level is substantially better. In a very basic sense, Division I basketball boils down to the search for space. The NBA has typically held a monopoly on the art of spacing the floor, thanks to not only the influence of advanced stats but also the influx of spread pick-and-roll concepts from Europe. In the college game, methods for finding and exploiting this space are not nearly as widespread.
For a number of reasons — younger, less-skilled players; a more compact area inside the arc; fewer rules benefiting offensive players such as defensive three seconds — college basketball has a lot of trouble reproducing the refined play of the NBA. The teams that can pull this off are difficult to beat, especially if their style of play is carried out by players with NBA-level talent. Since inserting Mitch McGary into the starting lineup at the beginning of the NCAA tournament, the Michigan Wolverines have become one of those teams.
The 20-year-old freshman’s presence has allowed head coach John Beilein to (somewhat slowly) identify that his team can be an unstoppable force when it spreads the floor with dead-eye shooters like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas and runs pick-and-rolls featuring McGary and another NBA-caliber talent, guard Trey Burke. Even though freshman forward Glenn Robinson III isn’t nearly as menacing a threat from beyond the arc as Hardaway or Stauskas — he’s shooting just 33.3 percent on the season — the Wolverines still have the perfect personnel to maximize space on the offensive end of the floor.
Yet another 1-seed found an early exit in the tournament last night. This time, it was the Indiana Hoosiers who met their fate at the hands of the Syracuse Orange and their famous 2-3 zone.
On a macro level, three things typically beat a zone defense: offensive rebounds, 3-point shots, and transition baskets. Indiana largely failed at all three in their defeat last night. The Hoosiers only made three shots from beyond the arc and had only 11 offensive rebounds (four of which came on one possession and didn’t even result in a made shot). Both of those figures actually fall below their respective season averages of 7.3 and 12.2.
Indiana found some success attacking Syracuse before the Orange could set up in their patented zone, but it was largely a mixed bag. The Orange did a fine job defending in transition last night, greeting the Hoosier break above the 3-point line and forcing wild forays to the rim, like these from Victor Oladipo that resulted in turnovers more often than they did made baskets.
As Aaron Craft dribbled down court last night, with the game tied and 20 seconds remaining, the Staples Center looked it might on any other night. A 4:45 p.m. local start time had meant a slow-arriving, slower-to-settle-in crowd, but by now, the place was mostly full, and everyone was on their feet. Craft took the ball from the top of the key, drew an extra defender, and found sophomore LaQuinton Ross for an open 24-footer on the left wing. With no hesitation, Ross pulled up. The shot went down with just two seconds left, giving Ohio State a 73-70 win and a trip to the Elite Eight, and the Buckeyes crowd, much of it contained directly behind the team’s bench, exploded.
Inside the Ohio State locker room — normally reserved for the Lakers — the scene was like it might be after a big win in March. The nameplates were missing, but the cameras were there. The horde gathered around Craft, his baby face still beet red, but rather than slide on their designer shoes and quickly make for the door, the game’s lesser names all sat hunched over in their chairs and dug into plates full of meatballs, pasta, and chicken. There are only so many free meals.
Florida Gulf Coast University is the most exciting version of the Cinderella story there's ever been. With two thrilling NCAA tournament upsets, and featuring a colorful cast of characters and a series of mind-bending alley-oops, we take a look at how the Eagles have fully captured our attention.
The mystery surrounding FGCU stems largely from its underwhelming record. The Eagles finished second in a weak conference and lost six games to teams that finished below .500. They beat one good team — Miami — very early in the season, and were throttled by the three other tournament teams (VCU, Duke, and Iowa State) they faced during their non-conference schedule. There was simply nothing that hinted at the two things that have now become widely held beliefs — this team is well coached and they have talented players.
Head coach Andy Enfield was a former NBA assistant turned shooting coach before finally landing back in the college ranks. His experience at the highest level of the game is evident in the team’s style of play, particularly on offense. Enfield runs a high-octane system set on pushing the ball up the court at all times, spacing the floor, and running a high volume of pick-and-rolls. It is actually eerily similar to the mid-2000s Phoenix Suns.
A few minutes before 8 a.m. yesterday, the line extending from the LVH sportsbook stretched back about 50 yards from the sign above its entrance. Those making up its tail end exchanged knowing looks as each new member asked the obligatory Is this the line? before taking his or her spot in front of the trio of blackjack machines on that end of the casino floor.
Seventy-five minutes before tipoff, this was the queue to make bets at the country’s biggest sports book on the country’s biggest sports day. The wait time stood at about 45 minutes, and as gamblers slowly rolled forward, faux-knowledge slowly rolled back. Someone a bit further up would mention that Bucknell on the money line looked attractive, and in a degenerate game of telephone, the conversation would trickle to the rear. An hour or so before tipoff, a man in a red UNLV T-shirt, who’d clearly been there before, but clearly never on this day, said what so many others were thinking. “This is fucking unbelievable.” Actually, it’s the first day of March Madness.
Oklahoma State and UNLV spent earlier parts of yesterday becoming the latest victims in the history of 12 seeds beating 5s, but the biggest upset of the night came amid a wave of blowouts during the last set of games from the opening day of the NCAA tournament. The trendy upset picks — Davidson (still don’t know how they lost) and Saint Mary’s — had already failed in their quest for a Cinderella moment, before lowly Harvard, the Ivy League afterthought, finally toppled a giant. With a 29-5 record that earned them a no. 3 seed, New Mexico was ranked 72 spots ahead of their opponent according to KenPom.com’s rating system and was considered a sleeper pick for a Final Four berth in the West region.
On paper, this was a terrible matchup for the Crimson. Their frontline rotation contained no one taller than 6-foot-8 to match up to the Lobos’ twin towers of Cameron Bairstow (6-9) and Alex Kirk (7-0). Given such a disadvantage in size, it was quite shocking to see head coach Tommy Amaker ask his Harvard big men to battle Bairstow and Kirk one-on-one all night in the post. But it was that decision that swung the entire course of the game.