2011 NBA Draft

Recruitment to Draft Efficiencies: A Study Studied

With the NBA draft on Thursday, and a smattering of Pac alumni (well sort of alumni, they’re seemingly all early entries presumably taking ongoing coursework to ensure no APR hits), I thought it’d be worth posting a wordy piece I’d researched and wrote a year ago.

Per data collected by the Emory Sports Marketing group, amongst Pac-12 schools, Washington and USC were the most efficient at fulfilling living room promises of NBA paydays. Hoop dreams, as it were, are best suited for downtown Los Angeles and Seattle. Who knew?

Seattle

I mean, look at it…

I certainly didn’t, though I’ve long been aware of the conference’s ability to produce NBA talent. Since 1980, the Pac-12 has produced the second most draftees amongst the Big 6 conferences (Big-12 is not listed on that link as they really only began their existence in 1996-97. Since their inception, however, they’ve produced just 4.6 draft picks per season as compared to 6.4 or greater in each of the other five. Thus, it’s safe to assume they wouldn’t have flirted with second place. Just not enough Jayhawks and Longhorns.

From such bulk data we can make broad, surface conclusions that the Pac-12 has indeed produced talent. That’s clearly a lot of NBA players and tells us something about the quality of players the conference recruits, develops, and gets placed into NBA jobs. I suppose that’s what college is all about – job placement – right?

Of course the number itself doesn’t really say much. Wouldn’t it make sense for the late-Big East with its umpteen constituents to have produced the most NBA players by the simple fact that they have more players? That would seem to make the most sense but it’s not the case as they’ve produced the fifth most draftees (a reason I think the BE was overrated on the whole as a basketball conference but that’s a totally different conversation).

And so we’re presented with Emory’s study; a snapshot into how well a school (we begin to diverge from specific conferences) operates as a job placement service. They used the Rivals recruiting rankings beginning with the 2002 class and attributed weights to a given star rating observe efficiencies. The algorithm:

(# of NBA Picks) /(Weighted Recruiting Talent**)

**Weighted Recruiting Talent = Sum of draft probability
5-star = 0.51, 4-star = 0.13, 3-star=0.03, 2-star=0.008, unranked=0.004

Plug and chug to find that Washington and USC have done the best job (aka most efficient job) at transforming high school talent into NBA draft picks. While Arizona and UCLA have produced 40% of the conference’s draft picks since 1980, they evidently haven’t been as efficient at it (at least since 2002).

There are, of course, some innate issues to this study which they directly address. They essentially make no bones about the fact that the summarized data limits our ability to “draw deeper thoughts.” From a data standpoint we’re dealing with just a very small sample size. Having examined recruiting classes since 2002, we’re really only exposed to 7 classes that have completed their four years and become draft eligible; or at least had their hand forced into eligibility after receiving the maximum four years of instruction and coaching. The 2010 class and beyond could still be selected in June of ‘14 (though good luck cracking that draft class) and have an effect on these efficiencies.

Additionally, one could argue that Arizona and UCLA – two schools with renowned recruiting prowess – are at a statistical disadvantage considering their success at recruiting higher rated recruits. What’s more, their historical success can often skew recruiting rankings. A fringe three-star with a UCLA offer can suddenly find himself a four-star recruit with three-star talent and thus a lower probability (0.03 Weighted Recruiting Talent) of ever being drafted. While it is the responsibility of those respective coaching staffs to improve players, it is not their role to assign recruiting rankings. They’re just supposed to win with the players who signed “yes.” Nevertheless, it was Washington and USC who turned out the most efficient.

How?

Statistically speaking, I’ll struggle to find the answer. As the Emor-ites stated, this is summarized data that won’t quite allow us to dive deeper. Recruiting rankings are no exact science, but they also don’t often lead us wildly astray. No doubt the success of three-stars Derrick Williams and Russell Westbrook hold significant weight in this efficiency rating; but so too might the disappointing careers (otherwise read: undrafted) of former five-stars Mustafa Shakur, JP Prince, Jawann McClellan, and Josiah Turner. And it’s also worth noting the number of efficiency draining four-stars from the conference’s power schools who have gone undrafted: UCLA has seen nine four-star prospects go undrafted since 2002 while Arizona has four such draftless wonders (and five undrafted five-stars).

SilverDraft

His predecessor called a lot of Wildcats

As the “bluebloods” have managed to allure more highly rated talent (or seen the inflation of their recruits’ star rating) they’ve also managed to have 21 kids drafted since 2002 (18 per the study which does not include the 2013 draft). And I recognize that Washington has had more draft picks over this time period than Arizona but within the overall context of NBA products, Arizona’s had the most draft picks (OK tied for the most) of any college program since 1988. Finding that the Wildcats are the 11th most effective at getting kids drafted is surprising. For a brief comparison, within the scope of Emory’s project, Arizona has recruited the second most four- and five-star players (23). UCLA took the top spot (26) while the Huskies were third (20).

Equipped with that, two things become evident:

  1. It makes sense that the schools bringing in the most highly rated prospects have produced the most NBA picks
  2. Arizona must suck at developing talent and/or evaluating it (along with Rivals).

The first point here is sort of a numbers game, similar to the aforementioned Big East thought. Each of UCLA, Washington, and Arizona indeed had the most players drafted since 2002. USC, our second most efficient school, had the fourth most draftees. Bring in better players and they’re likely to get drafted. Sweet.

The second point, however, allows us to see more clearly how Arizona rated at the tail end of this study. They gathered up a ton of talent but it didn’t seem to go anywhere (except perhaps Europe). In fact, from 2002-2013, Arizona failed to make even one Final Four. A feat they’d accomplished four times in the 14 years prior. UCLA attended three. Worth noting, in Arizona’s defense, is the fact that over a critical four-year span (2006-2010) overlapping this study’s data range, Arizona had four different head coaches. They subsequently had little continuity to player development and recruiting.

Nevertheless, Arizona didn’t get many of its kids into the league.

So what did the Husky and Trojan staffs recognize that perhaps others didn’t? How’d they effectively place their players in NBA jobs? These aren’t the first two schools that come to mind when thinking about the Pac-12 and the NBA but that’s how it shook out. Something has made them unique within the context of this evaluation. What?

Recruiting is a natural starting point to understand their success. And seeing as how Washington “won” I began in Seattle.

In the first 30 years of the McDonald’s All-American game, only three Seattle prep stars were burger all-stars. Since 2004, however, there have been nine such heralded players. The area, despite losing their Sonics, has produced oodles of basketball talent. In examining the number of NBA players from Seattle (and we’ll use the greater Seattle area here) there are 28 such players. We again find ourselves staring at summarized data but for the sake of context, those 28 NBA players are more than the total number of NBA players produced by the States of Arizona and Colorado…combined.

Indeed the Emerald City has produced and that would seem convenient for the local college, wouldn’t it? As mentioned, there have been nine McDonald’s All-Americans from the Seattle area since 2004. Four of them stayed to play at HecEd. And if you bothered to read the previously linked Sports Illustrated article (linked again for your convenience) you’d have learned that there is a supportive culture surrounding prep basketball in Seattle. Those who make it return to help those trying to make it. Such nurturing could get a kid to stick around.

And so they have.

Of the nine players drafted out of Washington since 2002, six of them were from Seattle. Additionally, one of the picks was from Portland a convenient two-ish hours away and a city devoid a college team. So if you’re counting, 77% of the players drafted out of the University of Washington have been local kids. You think that proximity has something to do with talent evaluation? Or how about relationship building, trust, familiarity, comfort, ease-of-transition, and everything else that pertains to the success of a young man?

As for USC, half of the group drafted out of the Galen Center (and the Sports Arena until 2006) were LA locals. To drop more summarized data on you, there are 92 NBA players from Los Angeles; which doesn’t include the greater LA areas of Long Beach (13), Inglewood (9), Compton (8), or Hollywood (5).

CaliforniaLove

California Love.

And perhaps adding fodder to this localization fire would be USC’s coaching turnover during the 2002-13 time period. There have been three different men in charge; which doesn’t include the two interims who led for brief spells during the 2004-05 and 2012-13 seasons. They’ve also endured NCAA sanctions. Little surrounding the Trojan program would suggest developmental success. Remember when we blamed some of Arizona’s efficiency struggles on their coaching gaffes? USC suffered/incurred similar yet still managed to efficiently get kids selected. Local ones at that.

Which of course begs intrigue into Westwood. The other school in Los Angeles of basketball note – UCLA – finished fifth in the efficiency rankings. They too had access to LA’s finest and managed to get eleven of them snatched up by NBA teams. During the greatest stretch of UCLA basketball since the Wooden era (Howland’s three straight Final Fours) he was rolling out rosters packed with Angelinos: Afflalo, Shipp, Collison, Farmar, Roll, Mata-Real, Westbrook, Bozeman, Hollins. These were kids who grew up on UCLA. And then nine of them went League. The Bruins had nine locals drafted amongst their eleven draftees, 82%. A number that parallels that of Washington’s local draft rate (77%).

(Fun fact break: UW and UCLA have also combined to win six conference titles since 2002)

Returning to the draft, over the same stretch, Cal developed four recruits into NBA-level talents; three of whom were from the Bay Area. Cal was the third most efficient per Emory. Need more? Here is a list of Arizona natives who became Wildcats since 1984: Sean Elliot, Mike Bibby, Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye, Jerryd Bayless. All lottery picks. As it were, All-American, Nick Johnson, will likely be the first Arizona raised Arizona Wildcat to not be a lottery pick. Nevertheless, Johnson received a call from Sean Miller in April of 2009 expressing his interest in his talents. It was Sean Miller’s first day on the Arizona job.

This is not to say that collecting local talent is a one-way pass to collegiate success and subsequent NBA paychecks. Certainly not as recruiting becomes increasingly national and international. Both Oregon State and Washington State have found success recruiting in Australia (Gary Bennett and Saint Mary’s, too). Of course both WSU and OSU just fired their coaches in the past two months so there’s that. Though also worth noting is that Ben Howland’s burning of LA recruiting bridges ultimately cost him his LA job.

The ultimate takeaway from this study might boil down to the basic Real Estate tenant of location, location, location. After all, home is where the heart is. And if your heart is set on the NBA, it would seem your best (most efficient) means of getting there would be staying right in your own backyard.

Paper_Letter

Don’t Ignore This Letter (The one from the Pac-12 Presidents)

Don’t ignore this letter. I did for a little while, but only because I went to a Mexican all-inclusive (recommended) to celebrate my brother’s graduation from medical school. But I implore you, do not ignore this letter.

The Pac-12 Presidents’ May 22 note to the rest of everyone is written in equal parts legalese, charm, altruism, and self-righteousness. They laud themselves as bold acting and seeking the autonomy not yet afforded them by the NCAA. And now their deadline is approaching (Hi, June) and this letter should not be ignored.

Because maybe these “pioneers of the west” are onto something? The NCAA has demonstrated a general inability to govern its institutions with any semblance of consistency or rationale. It is neither feared nor loved as Machiavelli would suggest leaving themselves susceptible to a coups, loosely what the Pac-12 Presidents have suggested (also, if you think Larry Scott isn’t all over this letter, you’re nuts).

Consider the Pac-12’s chest puffed. Bravado. They want a response from their “peer conferences” (presumably the Big 12, Big 10, ACC, and SEC) by June 4th before everyone meets on June 16th.

And before diving into the outlined objectives of this letter/initiative/revolution/coups, I’d like to note that the group rather swiftly denounces the resolution of athletes unionizing. Immediately prior to mentioning that this is “not the answer” the presidents refer to themselves and their peer leaders as CEOs. I find this language contradictory on many levels in such that unionization implies student-athletes are employees which the schools do not want. Meanwhile, proclaiming oneself a “CEO” suggests you hold chief office over employees. While there is not a concrete parallel between CEO and employment, the vernacular suggests as much. It is the only time CEO is referenced in the entire letter.

But this is less a matter of employment than a recognition that student-athletes (referenced 8x in the letter) deserve more. If they’ll go so far as to threaten unionization – autonomy! – there must be a gap between their needs and what they’re getting. The Pac-12 is recognizing this in a “bold” manner and trying to stay a step ahead. If they can deliver better benefits to their “non-employees,” they’ll pipe down and play the games, or rather get their educations or healthcare benefits. Is this the most fair means to a justified end? I dunno. But the important part is that the dialogue is happening. From Northwestern’s football team to the Ed O’Bannon and his lawsuit, the conversation is being had – for better and worse – which will result in change. Change is can be good.

On to the meat of this. The prezzies have outlined for us ten principle objectives for reform. Here they are with recognition of whether each principle is good or bad, what it is, and why it’d even be included (the third of which is also where I’ll take my blogging liberties). Also worth noting, certainly as we examine what each principle is, none of this has been spelled out for execution. As principles I think that can be excused but also highlights the complexities of institutional change. The good stuff:

  1. Permit institutions to make scholarship awards up to the full cost of attendance.
    • Good /Bad Principle: Good
    • What is it? From snacks to meals to housing and other comforts not currently afforded within an athletic scholarship, the University would have athletes’ backs.
    • What’s the point? Money talks and the NCAA and everything it’s associated with aren’t above this axiom. With the schools promising to spend more on their athletes, they will be demonstrating their commitments and taking care of their “student-athletes.” Further, by taking care of the entire cost of attendance, institutions can sidestep the conversation of paying student-athletes by noting that they’re already going above and beyond covering tuition.
  2. Provide reasonable on-going medical or insurance assistance for student-athletes who suffer an incapacitating injury in competition  or practice.  Continue efforts to reduce the incidence  of disabling injury.
    • Good/Bad Principle: Good.
    • What is it? Get hurt at school, school’s got your broken back. They’ve also noted the CYA clause that they’ll reduce the incidence of disabling injury. Football is on high alert at all levels.
    • What’s the point? This seems to be a pretty obvious point and a friend of mine is producing a documentary noting that schools most certainly do not cover these athletes beyond their time on campus. Similar to principle #1, the Prezzies are recognizing where they could perhaps improve care of their non-employees. Presumably, as a union and/or employees, student-athletes would be eligible for benefits they are entitled to. If on-going care becomes a part of scholarships, the schools control the care and the amount of it. Not the union or the government.
  3. Guarantee scholarships for enough time to complete a bachelor’s degree, provided that the student remains in good academic standing.
    • Good/Bad Principle: Good.
    • What is it? Fulfilling a promise. These are student-athletes but just because the latter half falls off, doesn’t mean the school is off the hook for the former.
    • What’s the point? This is something like the Friday Night Lights principle. If you’ve ever read the book or are familiar with the story, these kids are adored and taken care of right up until they’re no longer playing. Remember Boobie Miles? Knee gone, love gone. Alas, this is not specifically referencing injury. Sometimes degrees take longer than athletic eligibility to complete. Allowing kids to complete their degree on the school’s dime is a good thing. Chalk this one up as a win for the engineers.
  4. Decrease the time demands placed on the student-athlete in-season, and correspondingly enlarge the time available for studies and full engagement in campus life, by doing the following: 1) Prevent the abuse of organized “voluntary” practices to circumvent the limit of 20 hours per week. 2) More realistically assess the time away from campus and other commitments during the season, including travel time.
    • Good/Bad Principle: Whatever.
    • What is it? The RichRod rule. He got wrist slapped for such abuses at Michigan and in discussing this letter I was passed this glorious rant.
    • What’s the point? It’s weak but I get it. There’s such aggrandized speech surrounding “college life” and “student-athlete” that if principles like this weren’t included we could scream bloody hypocrisy. But perhaps we can anyways. Larry Scott and the presidents’ ability to uphold this one will be fascinating. For example, Pac-12 basketball used to be pretty strictly Thursdays and Saturdays. It was simple, predictable, and allowed for the least amount of time away from campus. Now, with the addition of the Pac-12 Networks, most road trips include a Wednesday or Sunday game. Extended travel, time away from campus. Additionally, there were a handful of weekends that included a Wednesday and a Sunday game. Couple that with a dramatic increase in Thursday night football games and one has to consider why the second of the two sub-principles is suggested. It’s the right thing to do on paper, but would these guys really push for something that didn’t directly benefit them? Spreading the schedule thin benefits the networks. Tightening it up benefits the students (supposedly).
  5. Similarly decrease time demands out of season by reducing out-of-season competition and practices, and by considering shorter seasons in specific sports.
    • Good/Bad Principle: Meh
    • What is it? I’m not terribly familiar with gratuitous amounts of out-of-season competition or where it occurs. I played in summer ball leagues in college but they weren’t school sponsored. Similarly there are Pro-Am leagues all over the country that give college kids opportunities to compete over the summer. Again, I’m not familiar with much beyond that (enlighten me?). That said, shortening season and minimizing competition correlates directly with principle #2 in which we’re trying to reduce injuries.
    • What’s the point? File this principle under “Consistency.” If we’re not going to let players get injured they sure as hell aren’t going to get injured while it’s not broadcast or not counting towards awards.
  6. Further strengthen the Academic Progress Rate requirements for post-season play.
    • Good/Bad Principle: Ask Kevin Ollie?
    • What is it? Schools will have to graduate a higher percentage of their athletes in order to be allowed to play for titles.
    • What’s the point? Teaching to the test. Therein lies the flaw to No Child Left Behind (amongst others) and the APR. The point of upping the standards would obviously be to ensure that more students graduate to ensure more athletes can win! But such a standard directs coaches and players to simply fulfill a score. They can begin to “teach to the test” and the crux of an education is lost: To learn. Simply upping the standards just puts more student-athletes in situations to graduate for the sake of it. Like NCLB, the APR’s heart is in the right place, I’m just not sure it’s the most effective means to upholding the S-A mantra.
  7. Address the “one and done” phenomenon in men’s basketball. If the National Basketball Association and its Players Association are unable to agree on raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men’s basketball.
    • Good/Bad Principle: WHAT???
    • What is it? A threat.
    • What’s the point? College coaches and administrators are powerful people and the NBA laughs at that power. The one-and-done rule was a hot topic during the 2012 lockout in college hoops circles. But it’s so un-tied to revenue that the Players Association and owners just tossed it aside. Ignored it. And that stings for these powerful coaches and administrators. It’s screwing with their altruism (student-athlete) and their brand. College basketball is becoming a minor league. The purity of the sport is diluted. A loss of innocence. New GS Warriors head coach, 5-time NBA champion, and Tucson demigod, Steve Kerr, thinks the age limit should be increased, too (that’s one insightful read, btw). But there’s a big gap between the wants and the haves. As it was brushed aside previously, Article X doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. So the Presidents here are taking a little brother move and saying, “If we can’t play, then no one can!!” Threatening to keep freshmen from playing (a move institutions would no doubt frame as in the best interest of student-athletes) means NBA scouts and teams can’t evaluate their next generation of talent and forces them into making less educated decisions with their money. While this all boils down to $, NBA teams would likely not be willing to take gambles on assets their unfamiliar with. Schools would be taking a major risk in executing this plan – there are other options like Europe, Junior Colleges, lawsuits, etc. – but the mere threat could be enough to move the NBA needle.
  8. Provide student-athletes a meaningful role in governance at the conference and
    NCAA levels.

    • Good/Bad Principle: Good.
    • What is it? An invite to the party…
    • What’s the point? And a seat at the kids’ table.
  9. Adjust existing restrictions so that student-athletes preparing for the next stage in their careers are not unnecessarily deprived of the advice and counsel of agents and other competent professionals, but without professionalizing intercollegiate athletics.
    • Good/Bad Principle: Great.
    • What is it? While most everyone is going pro in something other than sports, those going on to play pro sports would have improved access to the people evaluating them as possible employees at that level.
    • What’s the point? As it is today, the (pointless) mid-April NCAA draft declaration rule comes well before the early May draft camps. Not even the NBA’s deadline to declare (late April) allows athletes to participate. Pro Days would seem to be a good idea. Surrounding this principle you hear a lot of discussion about Agents. Certainly they have a beat on draft statuses and interest. They could provide some sound advice, too. The overarching fear here (as evidence by the principles’ final sentence) is “professionalization;” otherwise read, “money exchanging hands.” Ironically enough, this one’s all about making and educated decision.
  10. Liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions.
    • Good/Bad Principle: Good.
    • What is it? Player’s have to sit out a year if they transfer, receive a release from their school (we see you, Leticia), can be limited in the schools the transfer to, etc. They wanna make it easier to move.
    • What’s the point? Transfers, certainly of late, are being considered an epidemic. Transfer rates are soaring and this is a bad thing (supposedly). I’m not sold, one way or the other, but believe that if someone wants to leave, they should be allowed to leave. We can preach all we want about commitment and follow-through. Words coaches use as a lifetime defending something. Transfers use them as a punchline (reference). But everyone else is doing it. Administrators and coaches jump ship for greener pastures, so why can’t the players? Hell, this whole thing is boiling down to what everyone else is doing so why not give the players a little bit of what everyone else is getting? Just so long as it’s not money.

Don’t ignore this letter. The B1G hasn’t and, as June 4th approaches, I imagine others won’t as well. I don’t think these principles are the answer to college sports’ inequalities, inadequacies, or inefficiencies, but it is a start. A conversation starter.

Let’s talk.

tinkle2

Wayne Tinkle to Corvallis

Should we make the tinkle jokes now or later? I’m opting for later because I have to pick and choose my moments to act like an adult and right now shall be one of them. Mom, I hope you’re reading. I also think such humor is better suited for well timed tweets during tense game situations.

Alas, let’s welcome Mr. Coach Wayne Tinkle to the Conference of Champions. While he inherits what could amount to the worst Pac-12 team since – well since really not that long ago when Utah and USC were 6-win teams in 2012 – he can, however, take solace in the fact that he will now be the conference’s tallest coach! Tinkle stands 6-feet-10-inches tall and looks to be the Shaquille to Krystkowiak’s Divac. That said, K crushes bike and phone thieves and Tinkle:

Tinkle

So aside from from gravity defiance, what does Tinkle bring westward? He’s the third man (by my calculations, I could be wrong) to leave the Grizzlies for the Pac. No doubt he aspires to match the success of Mike Montgomery (281 conference wins), but let’s focus on what Tinkly has already done. He’s coached just one team to a losing record and played on CBS in March three times. That’s three more times than Oregon State in the past 24 years. Tinkle can Dance.

Of course a new hire begs the question whether or not he can dance in his new colors. It would seem he won’t be doing such for awhile but he has an auspicious start considering his son is considered a high major talent, a three-star forward named Tres Trinkle who will follow pops to Corvallis. Now let’s run that back real quick: big dad, coaching big son who’s name is Tres. If that doesn’t sound like the trailer to the sequel to The McDermotts: A Jump Shot Story then you’re not paying attention.

Disney just contacted me for a script (I declined after declining to watch Million Dollar Arm).

All in all, this is a good hire. Considering the timing of it all (weird) and the support around this program (minimal as 2014 saw Gill’s worst attendance numbers in years) getting a proven coach is good work. And work is what Tinkle will have to do to have any semblance of success in what amounts to the most success deprived basketball program in the conference.

Is it a good day to be a Beaver? Maybe. But it’s always cool to fly private:

 

CraigRobinson

Craig Robinson Fired After Not Getting Fired

When I tiredly opened the Twitter app on my phone while awaiting a train that was seven minutes away, the first news I saw was that Craig Robinson had been let go. It took a second to process, such are Monday mornings, but as that sunk in, all I could think was, “Now what?”

Bob De Carolis oozed confidence just a handful of weeks ago in noting that his coach would return. He listed everything Craig had accomplished that the previous five coaches following Ralph Miller had not pulled off. Now many of these accomplishments are meek (Oregon State had four wins against top-50 and six against top-100 NCAA basketball programs this past season, including wins over two teams that advanced to the Sweet 16), and none included an NCAA tournament visit. But Robinson had bested them all. Oregon State’s best coach in more than twenty years. And now he now joins them as a former Beaver.

While “now what” was my first thought, reactions to the news were the immediate response. To address:

1) Why is Craig Robinson being fired?

Aside from the aforementioned vote of confidence from his boss (you paying attention to this possible future candidates?) we can rationalize why Robinson was fired as the trajectory of his program was less than promising. He was about to lead a team that had very little talent. Everyone of note was leaving and the program’s win totals over his six years reads like this: 18, 14, 10, 21! 14, 16. The Beavers were going to be very bad in 2014-15, competing with that 2011 ten-win squad as worst Robinson team in Corvallis. This is an unfortunate scenario for a seventh year coach. The why fire him question is kind of easy to answer despite some of his semi-unprecedented success in Corvallis.

2) Why is he being fired now?

The quick answers here suggest money was in play. Robinson was owed $4M and will make that $4M whether or not he coaches in Corvallis. Someone with lots of money perhaps wanted Robinson out and made it a possibility for the athletic program to oust the First Coach. They accomplished this either by subsidizing the buyout or threatening to subsidize nothing. Money talks and this maybe wasn’t a possibility when schools normally fire their under-performing coach in – say – March. Because it’s May now and so….

3) But seriously, why now?

It’s May, every coaching gig has been inquired about, filled or rejected, recruiting is picking up, and everyone is leaving Eugene. You’re offering a job that most closely resembles a rusted ’93 Taurus that also needs a new transmission. And brakes. And a rear window. And probably three new wheels. Gone are the Beavers’ five leading contributors and they might only have a mitten to cover it up (that’s a joke noting that Gary Payton’s son – Gary “The Mitten” Payton II – will be starting at OSU this fall). From Drew:

The cupboard is bare, it’s non-existent and there isn’t even an appointment with the carpenter to build a new one. But taking over a talented roster is something only Steve Alford, Tubby Smith, and Bill Self got to do (sure there are others but that’s this moment’s #HotSportsTake). In moving coaching jobs, it’s not exactly a pre-requisite. A foundation for success, however, that’s a different story. Craig Robinson was sub-.500 and is the best coach the school’s had since they employed the second best Miller the conference has ever seen [winky face emoji]. In summary: they’re offering a bad role to a thin market.

The reactionary phase is satiated but we’re now back to my initial reaction: Now what?

Well Bob De Carolis lied to us in his press conference noting that he had “no candidates in mind.” Puh-lease. The third point above alludes completely and totally to the idea that there is someone lined up. At least that’s what I want to believe. And if there isn’t paperwork on someone’s desk that would make them the next coach inside Gill, then I have to ask, “BUT SERIOUSLY WHY NOW?” To not have a solid candidate lined up when working this far outside the realm of normal hiring cycles suggests ineptitude within an athletic department that seems to be pretty adept (solid football program, a top ranked baseball team, Women’s hoops danced, 2012-13 gymnastics conference champs).

The timing of this would seem to be an opportunity for De Carolis to either look brilliant or otherwise. 1) Awkwardly fire your coach to bring in [insert sexy hire here which could turn out to be Ben Howland which would be a monster hire at a school like OSU and might also demonstrate just how tarnished the Howland brand is in the wake of his departure from UCLA but we can probably dedicate an entire post to just that and cut out this run on sentence]. Or, 2) awkwardly fire your coach to bring in an elongated coaching hunt, an underwhelming name, and probably some serious heat.

The future of OSU basketball weighs in the De Carolis balances of decision making. And while part of that future is already written – the Beavs are going to suck next year – it’s the AD’s job to think big picture.

What is Bob De Carolis thinking?

Personal Note: I’m bummed to see Craig Robinson leave the conference. I defended his position when he was first retained because I thought he was, if nothing else, OSU’s best option. That’s the basketball side and while I don’t have particularly close access to these personalities, in my few opportunities, Robinson was a charming, thoughtful, funny guy. At Pac-12 Media Day I asked him about how his defense had improved by prefacing it with a comment on Barrack. He laughed, answered, and then coached the conference’s worst defense. But you laugh at my jokes and I think you’re good people. Good luck, Craig. You’ll probably do just fine.

Jordan-Adams

Jordan Adams Changed His Mind

In December, we looked into how Jordan Adams had changed his game. A mid-range threat as a freshman, Adams had improved his offensive efficiency by getting to the rim. He had changed his game.

And now he’s changed his mind.

News dropped over the weekend that the efficient shooter would be foregoing his remaining two years in Westwood to head to the NBA. This differs from his initial April 17 declaration to stay in school. He gone.

This flip flop is a major blow to the Bruins. Their starting lineup will be 80% brand new and Bryce Alford will almost certainly be starting. Stay tuned for rants of Daddy Ball wielded by the Hoosier Loser (fear not, you’ll never read that here).

You don’t need me to spell out the significance of Adams’ departure. He was arguably the best returning player in the conference and was easily the best player on UCLA’s roster. With the Family Wear and Kyle Anderson already gone, Adams was going to be the centerpiece, likely expanding on what was already the conference’s 8th highest usage percentage. This is kind of a big deal.

And with regards to the Pac-12 landscape, I had hinged the Pac-12 off-season on the professional decisions of Adams and Spencer Dinwiddie. Both star guards were faced with tough choices. Furthermore, both seemingly held the fate of their teams’ 2014-15 success in their hands. Both have now chosen pro pastures and leave Alford and Boyle with some significant coaching opportunities. Good luck, gentlemen.

Of course it should be noted that both teams project to be in the upper half of the conference. UCLA has pieced together a nice class and Isaac Hamilton has had a year on the pine (after transferring from UTEP) to learn the Alford way. Colorado has a talented group that will now have the added benefit of knowing exactly what they’re working with and can lose their “deer in headlights” look they wore following Dinwiddie’s injury. It’s an uphill battle for both but a challenge both rosters are prepared to handle.

All of which begs the question: Is it November yet?

Spencer Dinwiddie

Spencer Dinwiddie and his Big Choice

Spencer Dinwiddie has set aside time with members of the media to declare where he’ll be taking his rehabilitation. The reality of this situation is such that The Mayor is making a terribly difficult decision: Stay or go? That, of course, is the simplification of the choice but he’s in a tough spot picking between two unknowns. His health is unclear and his draft stock is equally uncertain. We don’t know what he’ll do.

But we know he’ll sit in front of a microphone – or a bunch of iPhones as I’m not entirely sure how this thing will go down – make a declaration, and the second biggest shoe of the Pac-12 off-season will drop.

Yes, replacing Monty was big (welcome, Cuonzo); and yes it was interesting to see Bill Moos’ pick (welcome back, Ernie); and yes it was funny to kind of maybe, you know if circumstances were to dictate such, follow the possible consideration of Nigel Williams-Goss’ departure. And when Nick Johnson declared for the draft, it was a touch surprising but it really just means that Arizona goes from unbelievably good to believably elite. The Beavers chose to keep Craig Robinson, Craig’s best returner decided to go, and Zach LaVine’s dad went moderate-to-full helicopter parent in discussing playing time, going so far as to say:

“If it doesn’t work out, you get a divorce. I don’t blame anybody.”

There have been many decisions already in this brief off-season but none will have as immediate and large of an impact as those made by Jordan Adams and The Mayor.

Adams already made his intentions public: he’s staying. This gives UCLA a known commodity for their 2014-15 campaign in an important second year for Steve Alford. Coach can lean on the POY front runner as he gets a very different roster up to speed. Welcome to the Powell and Adams show.

Which brings us to the second shoe. A shoe that rests below a reconstructed knee that is the basis of all this uncertainty. There’s no use discussing what this presser would look like had Spencer never hurt his knee in Seattle. That’s just a cruel waltz down an unpleasant memory lane. Revisionism only ever helped Marty and Doc.

And whether he should or should not go is beyond the scope of my analysis. I can offer no insights into what a player should do when it comes to his future, his earning potential, and what NBA teams are telling him. At least he can eat all the snacks he wants in Boulder now. This is an incredibly personal decision for a young man in a situation I have zero personal experience with. I know Spencer Dinwiddie is a terrific basketball player and I know he aspires to play in the NBA and has the skills to fulfill that aspiration. It’s a dream he’s as close to as he may ever be. The question (aside from Stay or Go?) is whether or not the NBA wants him. Again, I don’t know and I won’t venture to guess. For my money (I have very little), he can play in The League.

Of course what I can definitely tell you is that his decision will have a gross impact on the 2014-15 Pac-12 basketball season. With Dinwiddie, Colorado is a top-15 team, the second best roster in the Pac, and very realistically has sights set on the school’s first round of 16 since the beginning of Beatlemania. John Wooden had won just one title at the time of the Buffs’ last trip to the second weekend (1963). It’s been awhile.

Without The Mayor in Boulder, the course of 2014-15 changes. We’ve had a glimpse of what the Buffs look like when he’s on the bench and allow me to show you the scoring differentials against NCAA teams with and without him:CU against Tourney Teams

That’s +3 with the kid and minus-128 without him. I suppose I could break into a Where They Affect The Game here but the numbers are too outstanding. Dinwiddie means something and today, at 1:30pm MST, he’ll drop the second biggest shoe on the Pac-12′s forthcoming season.

No matter what he says, I wish him luck. As noted, this is a personal and monstrous decisions. Dinwiddie strikes me as a bright kid, he’ll make the right choice for him. Good luck, Spencer.

And note, no matter his direction, Dom Collier is headed to Boulder.

Andre and Nick

Nick Johnson Declares for the NBA Draft

I put all my eggs into the narrative basket and lost.

In November, I managed to get 5 minutes and 37 seconds with Nick Johnson. I asked him questions and he answered. Together, we came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter what the name of the sandwich he got at beyond bread was, but only that he enjoyed it.

When we pivoted to basketball, he had glowing things to say about the progress of Gabe York and the contributions – to his career – of Kyle Fogg. Nick is a bright and thoughtful kid. I thought I had a nice article brewing. And then I asked him about goals.

I like goals. I’ve played sports my whole life and we used to set them there. I have a job and we set them there. I have a life and I set them there. Goals, as it were, have a tendency to help us achieve things. Sometimes we don’t always reach them, but so long as we try – we try real hard – we can’t soon be called a loser.

That Thursday afternoon, when I asked Nick Johnson what his personal goals were, he told  me, “Defensive player of the year.” Immediately I wanted to text my brother. Holy hell! If Johnson was to be the best defender, then Arizona was surely to be the best defenders, and my goodness were they going to be good. Mid-interview, as a professional courtesy, I didn’t text my brother.

But my excitement surrounding his remarks got me  thinking that maybe I was sitting on something bigger than just a nice preview.

I followed the personal goals question by inquiring as to the team goals. “We want to win the Pac-12 regular season. And then on to the tournament, the Pac-12 tournament and eventually get to a Final Four. And then after…” Here’s where he briefly paused. Then smirked. I think I was sitting calmly in my seat, if memory serves me correctly, but I cannot, confirm this. One can only hope that Johnson didn’t notice the fandom oozing out my pores.

He was wearing a gray Nike Jumpsuit. It was simple, with navy shouldering, the block A, a swoosh, and a patch:

NickPatch

You can kind of see it, another A and another swoosh. But also on there was a year, 1997 to be exact, noted on the sleeve patch. That’s the last and only time Arizona won a national title. After noting that his team was trying to get to a Final Four, I had an opportunity to jump back into the conversation.

My interjection, “You wanna put another patch on that jacket, don’t you?”

He smiled again, the consummate team guy, and told me, “Everything will take care of itself.” I thanked him for his time, we parted ways, and I texted every Wildcat fan in my phone.

But I never wrote the story. Like I said, I put this egg in the narrative basket, gambling everything would take care of itself, and it didn’t. Or at least not the way that I had imagined it. Arizona never made that Final Four. They didn’t even win the Pac-12 tournament. Nick Johnson was not your Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

He was the Player of the Year. The conference’s best player on their best team. He became an All-American and Wooden Award Finalist. I had asked Nick Johnson what his goal was and then I got to watch this kid obliterate that goal. That’s just great.

And yesterday he declared for the NBA draft.

It’s a decision I don’t necessarily agree with but that’s the opinion of the same guy who nearly texted everyone who knew while interviewing Johnson. A totally rational move (sarcasm font). We talked about his goals and he exceeded some with flying colors! He had about as complete a season as a college basketball player could have.

But similar to how it all changed on 2/1, Johnson’s decision leaves us with a lot of ‘what ifs’ that will ultimately A) not be answered until at least November, and B) perhaps never be answered. Indubitably, Arizona would have had one of its most talented rosters the school has ever rolled out had Johnson stayed.

As it were, he’s projected as the 20th PG or SG taken (second round) and the sixth Pac-12 player picked. Also to note, that same projection has seniors Shabazz Napier (1st round) and Russ Smith (2d round) picked ahead of Johnson.

Of course, there’s this:

The kid could come back. This was a very tough decisions. But if we’re going to premise this whole thing on goals, I think Nick sees his: the NBA. I also won’t soon assume to know what back room conversations were had or promises made. I won’t assume to know his rationale or decision making process.

What I can tell you is that I asked a kid about what he wanted to accomplish and then he bested that. Color me impressed. But that’s nothing knew with how I’ve long perceived Nick Johnson.

And I guess this is that strange, beautiful, awkward part of college sports. We know these players enter for a finite tenure. Nick Johnson isn’t leaving to take Steinbrenner money. He isn’t taking his talents to a superfriendship and breaking our hearts in Akron. Nick Johnson has had a goal to play at the highest level of the game he loves. How much can we really begrudge him this departure?

Yeah I selfishly want to see more of him in cardinal and navy. His presence would bring Stanley Johnson off the Wildcats’ 2015 bench. Maybe he’s leaving to be fair to everyone else? Like I said, I think there was more for him to accomplish in Tucson. And I wanted to cheer it, fulfill the narrative I had hoped would manifest.

But there’s even more for him to accomplish outside of Tucson. He’s off to do that.

Here’s to hoping Nick Johnson keeps exceeding his goals.

And Arizona puts another patch on that jacket.

Team Enters

BB: Our 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats

I’m always pretty honest here. I don’t love ASU and, despite being 6’5″, I’ve only dunked a handful of times. Fastballs don’t translate into verticals. And so to get my mind around, and my heart into, re-examining this season – if not that game – I needed some time. A passage of moments to absorb everything that was our (my) last five months. Because my team didn’t win and because they were supposed to. Because I watched a season, five months, rest confidently in the hands of Nick Johnson. And then the season didn’t quite make it out of his hands. To tell you that I didn’t hurt sitting in section 407, row B, seat 4, alongside my brother, would be a Badger faced lie. I hurt, alongside a fan base starving to be in North Texas, watching the most exciting iteration of their team – our Wildcats – fall one point short. Pain.

And in this afternoon there will be departures and returns. Perhaps some coaching changes down the line. New developments that might further dictate our feelings about those five months.

But for now, take a walk with me. Certainly not a run because a run might not let us appreciate things, the actual path. By running, we might get stuck with a singular memory of a ball, in hand, with a backlit backboard, and the wrong score. A run would neglect to recall how we got to Anaheim. So let’s walk. Walk to appreciate how we got there and because sometimes it helps to slow things down, make sure that this blog post doesn’t become one big :(. Also, my middle name is Walker. Fun fact.

Like any walk, I suppose we’d have to begin by getting off the couch. Of course that’s where it all began for me. I was amongst the more than 18,000 streaming a basketball scrimmage on a Saturday afternoon in October. On that day, TJ McConnell played defense. Yes, I was ecstatic to watch a 6’1” Pittsburgher play practice defense. A skill he’d assert 39 more times for my viewing pleasure.

But that was just a practice. We needed, craved, the real thing. And soon thereafter, by a convergence of love, convenience, and coincidence, I celebrated the first two games of the season and my dear friend’s wedding. In Tucson. God bless Sunday weddings in November.

Of course the Cal Poly game left something to be desired. The Mustangs (who would eventually win one NCAA tournament game) made eleven three-pointers and raised questions about whether or not the 2012-13 three-point defense was an anomaly or a trend. The Wildcats would go on to allow the 12th lowest percentage of threes in the nation. Opponents would make just 32% of whatever they got.

But Gabe York started, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed zero rebounds, Jordin Mayes played 4 minutes to turn the ball over 3 times, and the team shot 56% from the line. Was this game foretelling? No, the next game was. An assertion of strength, execution, and we-are-better-than-you up and down the McKale floor.

The tone was set. Arizona would be the most exciting, defense oriented, pace conscious team there could be. At least that’s what we wanted. But their mettle was yet to be tested. Not even a win in San Diego meant enough. A stage, The World’s Most Famous Arena, was the only place to do it. So they went to Madison Square Garden, forced Jabari Parker into what would be the second worst offensive performance of his collegiate career (by ORtg), and left their scent all over the right coast. Early the following week, Carolina would win in East Lansing.

Four days later, Arizona was the number one team in the country. Back.

What do you think of our walk so far? Months of speculation about whether these Wildcats could shoot, lead, or get over their youthful hump had manifested into the nation’s top team. And it was fun. Validation of the previous tribulations that had seemingly set the program back. Number one again.

But this was December. Who cares about rankings – let alone college basketball – in December? The Wildcats had yet to take their toughest trip of the season, a frigid journey to Ann Arbor. I would join them. It become the upset dujour that weekend and perhaps deservedly so. Michigan was a talented squad playing at home. They’d go on to win the B1G and finish a dagger away from their second straight Final Four. Against Arizona, they led for more than 32 minutes. But Arizona won, Brandon Ashley was the best player on the floor during a game featuring countless NBA bound talent, and shit got real. Jim Nantz told me he’d see me in Dallas. I’m serious. The questions weren’t about whether the roster could do this or that, tt became, “Are they the best Arizona team, ever?” Jim fucking Nantz, you guys! And oh was it fun.

There were these:

aaron-gordon-vs-ucla-b

And this:

Rondae Dunk

And more:

aaron-gordon-double-clutch-reverseThere was a game that Washington State scored 7 points in an entire half. They scored just 0.46 points on each of their 54 possessions; twenty-five collective points from a high-major, Division-1 basketball team. That’s what Arizona was going to do to you.

And then these guys came up to see me. My team! Their first trip to the Bay Area in two years and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. My brother was going to be in town! The Wildcats! What a weekend.

But then it all changed.

The prohibitive favorites, winners of 21 straight and the top team in the land for eight straight weeks (a school record), lost in Berkeley. Sure the score read 58-60 and the court was preemptively rushed. How can an Arizona fan get pissed about that? Irrelevant. It all changed on February 1st when Brandon Ashley broke his foot. At the time, we couldn’t really speak of it. The foot failed but the team would not. Adjustments had to be made because there was still season to be played and we had to see Jim in Dallas. We’re on a walk here, right? Brandon couldn’t walk. It all changed.

And I buried that change, still absorbed by the narrative of January 31st, not February 2nd. Prohibitive favorites and now who knows what? Somberly, we left Haas that night with what felt like a season in flux. A proverbial tipping point. But the season couldn’t be buried in one podiatric misfortune. Onward the Wildcats would go. The feeling was buried. The season endured.

Exhibit A was a two-point home win over Oregon. Exhibit B was a hohum dismissal of the Beavers. The next two games would see the Wildcats in three overtimes, escaping with just one win. They lost in Tempe.

It all changed on 2/1 and whatever we buried was soon to bubble up. The aforementioned post-Ashley exhibits were less than encouraging and Colorado’s Keg was looming. Arizona had never won in Boulder as members of the Pac-12. Regardless, my buried feelings and tempered expectations flew to Boulder. With a busy mind, it wasn’t clear to me what would happen. I should have known better:aaron-gordon-dunk-gifColorado didn’t record a field goal for the game’s first ten minutes and Arizona won by 27. And then they won by 28 and then 13 and again we could believe. We could slip back into Goliath’s slippers and feel good in them.

There was a forgettable trip to Oregon before a defensive tour d’force through the MGM Grand Arena. Utah was throttled and Xavier Johnson – who once noted that the Wildcats “weren’t that good” – would make just 5 of 21 shots against the Wildcats after that January remark. And this:

Aaron Gordon BlockThen the Pac-12 championship game – Arizona and UCLA – was every bit the heavy weight battle it was supposed to be. The Pac-12 deserved and needed it. The Bruins punched first, taking it to Arizona’s top rated defense like no other team all season. The Wildcats, however, shot back. Raining from beyond the arc before settling into their more typical defensive effort. But when push came to shove – and it did – Jordan Adams hit the biggest shot. UCLA was your 2014 Pac-12 Tournament Champions. He didn’t touch the ball.

To this point I haven’t mentioned the walk we were on. It had a title, or at least I had one for it, “The Road to Dallas.” But this is the hardest part of the walk. The path narrows and the way more treacherous. Sudden death is a possibility. Sudden death is a reality. This is the NCAA tournament. You know all of this and when Arizona’s name was called on Sunday, you contemplated how you’d get to San Diego, Anaheim, and Dallas. I did. We toed the waters but never hesitated to jump in. Bring on the challenge.

And a challenge it is. Littered with hyperbolic prose surrounding its uncertainty and glass slippers. Goliaths enter and one exits. But you – we of the red shirts – were behind Goliath. The Wildcats were going to win this whole fucking thing.

And then they didn’t.

I had charged down Interstate-5 with my buddy, Jamie – a lifelong Badger, brilliant hoops mind, sports enthusiast, and beer drinker – for Thursday’s games. My brother was flying into LA to join. Jamie and I crashed at a friend’s Wednesday night, worked from Westwood the morning of, and then invaded the Honda Center. For Jamie, the early game was a breeze. Wisconsin was on to Saturday’s game faster than you could say ‘On Wisconsin.’

The Wildcats then took Thursday’s court and Nick Johnson scored 15 points in the games final 2:45. He made all of the free throws everyone thought the Wildcats would miss to send them packing from this tournament. The dismissal of SDSU evoked little sympathy. Self inflated with a brotastic following dripping with little brotherdom, I couldn’t have ushered them out any faster. And they were removed from the game’s hallowed event by the right  team. The Aztecs gave the West coast a go and the big kids will take it from here. Kthanksbye.

Which of course brings us to Saturday and me next to my brother at the tops of our chairs and lungs. The game itself could be dissected; examined for the minutiae of +/- data, offensive and defensive efficiencies, and probability charts. Ultimately, on the grandest stage where only one advances by any means possible – survival – the Badgers bettered the Wildcats. By one point. It needn’t be pretty, you just need to have the extra point.

For Arizona, they didn’t have the extra point. That’s the hurt stuff.

The kind of stuff that doesn’t let you appreciate an Aaron Gordon overtime three-pointer. He of the comically broken shot stepped into a three in the biggest game of his life. Onions. All the game long nothing would fall for the superfrosh. So naturally he grabbed 18 rebounds – nearly a quarter of all available boards in the game – and stuck that three.

It hurts and you maybe don’t get to remember when all seemed wrong, when the Arizona offense was operating at a second grade level, why not Jordin Mayes? He was there for the offensive rebound and the lay-in with sixty seconds left. In the three years of data I can access (hoop-math), it’s Jordin’s only career putback.

That immediate pain might not allow the opportunity to appreciate a moment like TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson hugging at mid-court. I can’t finger the exact situation but into a timeout, deep in the contest with the outcome in the balances and punches being thrown back and forth, the Wildcat backcourt embraced in the middle of the Honda Center. It was the kind of scene you expect to see with a Luther Vandross backdrop. Shit, I thought it meant they weren’t going to lose.

SPOILER: They did.

I’m late on all of this but I needed to get away from the suddenness of zeros and no more games. As noted I’m honest on here and the flurry of “UCONN!?!?!?!?! REALLY!?!?!?!?” texts into and out of my phone was…abundant? Ubiquitous? Fiery? And all of that heat was promptly followed by an outpouring of everything we couldn’t discuss after 2/1. A date we won’t forget and can’t neglect in reviewing, even appreciating, this season. Goliath down a peg.

Which is the end of our walk. A saunter through five of the most exciting and unique months of fandom I can recall. We felt promising optimism and crippling defeat. I saw triumphant revenge, fierce confidence, and assertions force. We hoped, believed, and hurt. We did it together and that’s the overarching importance of sport. 2013-14 was section 407 with my brother; the living room with my best friends;  a bar with countless strangers; every arena I entered. In taking this walk, it’s my hope that you remember where you were and who you were with for each of the shining moments that were this season.

Those illuminated flashes that define our favorite game are brief because they’re shared. If 68 enter and only one leaves, then we have to believe in those shining moments. We can share those and remember when.

The first games begin in November with the promise of a whole season with anticipation for the unexpected and hopeful before us. And then we get caught in a sprint. Running to March in search of the shining moments that just might not come. Everything changed on 2/1 and maybe that’s OK? Maybe it’s not. It’s OK to remember, just don’t get stuck in Haas.

And remember this walk, and all the fun you had watching the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats Men’s Basketball team.Team Enters

UConn2

Congrats to the Winner of the PacHoops Bracket Challenge: Me

There was an element of awkwardness to the PacHoops Bracket challenge. I had offered up some incredible prizes without the promise of a single one. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to give or what the winner would have earned. But then, as the games unfolded and results fell in, it became clear that I was going to win. Awkward.

SEE ALL OF THE RESULTS

Granted, as the preeminent Pac-12 blogger, it was totally obvious that I pick UConn into the Elite Eight. I mean, anyone with half a blog can see that an eight-loss team with a recent 33-point loss would win a handful of tournament games. The writing was on the wall, clearly. They’d go on to win two games beyond where I had them losing but it didn’t hurt my bracket to pick up those 7-seed points. In beating Florida, the Huskies secured my victory in this Bracket Challenge. Sorry I’m not sorry, Derek the RA.

And before you get any further – if you even got this far amidst my bracket arrogance – don’t even come at me with “you rigged it!” nonsense. I posted my bracket for all to see. Here it is again:Adams BracketAin’t she a beauty? She finished 62,683rd overall.

But the real beauty lies in the fact that 32 of you submitted brackets. That 22 of you picked Arizona (my new best friends) and one of you picked Colorado (hell yeah I like that pick). There were two bids for Sparty (and who doesn’t love Izzo?), one for Bucky (they may have beat my Cats but I liked that team and the shot of Traevon Jackson  on the bench after losing to the wrong Cats nearly broke me all over again), and a handful of Gator picks.

The Bracket Challenge worked, we found The One (me), but that’s really not telling of anything at all. Let’s get serious. Next year I’ll finish last or something.

Just know that I’ve already put ‘ARIZONA’ on the final line. Sharpie.

Harrison Twins

Luther Vandross Appreciation Day

I know you don’t have a dog in tonight’s fight. I don’t and I can confidently say you don’t because it’s Kentucky vs. UConn. The former is college basketball’s lightning rod of criticism. The wrong Wildcats to be in this game if you’re asking me. The dribbling and shooting version of Alabama’s football juggernaut built to win by any means possible in the biggest possible ways. Big Blue Nation, as it were, is the necessary evil to make Cinderella’s story that much sweeter. You probably don’t like Kentucky.

And there’s also Connecticut a year removed from a post-season ban. The Huskies are proving every rule we’ve ever thought about this tournament: hot at the right time, senior guards, Deandre Daniels. Do you realize that Daniels is scoring 3 more points per game since the games turned to tournament games (AAC and NCAA)? When Shabazz is going to Shabazz, there isn’t a lot you can do. But when a 6’9″ guy is going to shoot 42% from distance and also grab 7.4 boards per NCAA game, a run into the title game isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. The Huskies are pistol hot. You probably don’t like Connecticut.

But as we’ve already established, neither one of these guys is your team. The squad we read recruiting rumors and group text about. They’re not ours.

So maybe it is a bittersweet championship. But that’s what happens when everything got put on the line three weeks ago and the ball was tipped and we said “let’s do this shit.” We knew it was going to hurt a little if things didn’t go our way. At this point, I’ve read my share of “despondent locker room” articles and “why next year is still reason for optimism.” I’m hoping to have enough perspective to sit and watch, even enjoy, tonight’s ball game.

But even if you can’t get your mind around that, it’s Luther Vandross Appreciation Dayand may your moment shine.