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NCAA Men’s Basketball Awards, post-Round 2 March 25, 2013

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LouisvilleBball2013_1I’m not the most knowledgeable person about college basketball or roundball in general, but the developments over the first two rounds led me to notice that some of the awards I usually bestow at the end of each regular season week of college football might also apply during this, the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tourney.

It’s been an interesting one thus far, what with some key upsets that have shot many a person’s bracket to Hades.  Although, if you went “chalk” in the West region, you’re good for the Sweet Sixteen!  Anyhow, Enjoy!

COACHES
Wish I were himRick Pitino, Louisville

Glad I’m not him: John Thompson III, Georgetown
Lucky guy: Dr. John Giannini, LaSalle
Poor guy:  John Groce, Illinois
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Tom Creen, Indiana
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State (honorable mention:  Andy Endfield, Florida Gulf Coast)

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mark Few, Gonzaga

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Louisville (both rounds)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Indiana (round 2)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  North Carolina A&T (round 1)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Florida Gulf Coast (both rounds)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Iowa State (round 1)

Dang, they’re good: Louisville
Dang, they’re bad:  Akron
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Gonzaga

Did the season start?  St. Louis
Can the season end?  Kentucky (yeah, I know, not even in the tourney, but they were one-and-done in the NIT!)
Can the season never endOregon (honorable mention:  Florida Gulf Coast)

GAMES
Play this again:  Marquette 74, Butler 72
Never play this again: VCU 88, Akron 42
What? Oregon 68, Oklahoma State 55
HuhFlorida Gulf Coast 78, Georgetown 68
Are you kidding me? Oregon 74, St. Louis 57
Oh – my – GodWichita St. 76, Gonzaga 70
Told you so: Minnesota 83, UCLA 63

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  Indiana vs. Syracuse, also Michigan State vs. Duke

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast
Best non-Big Six matchup: Wichita State vs. LaSalle

Upset alert: Michigan vs. Kansas

Must win: (all of them:  duh!)
Great game no one is talking about: Miami vs. Marquette

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2012-2013 Bowl Game Awards January 10, 2013

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What, you’d think I’d be lying down on the job just because the regular season is over?

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Charlie Strong, Louisville

Wouldn’t be bad to be him, either:  Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Lucky guy:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Poor guy: Patrick Higgins, Purdue (interim coach)
Desperately seeking a clue (long-term, notwithstanding the win):  Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bill Blankenship, Tulsa

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Lane Kiffin, USC

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Texas A&M (beat No. 11 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4, 41-13)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (see below)

(Dec. 15-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Purdue (see below)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Louisville (see below)
(Jan. 1-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Alabama

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did: Notre Dame

Dang, they’re good: Alabama (and Texas A&M!)
Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue

They can’t be that good:  Oklahoma State

Dang, they’re overrated:  Notre Dame

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Mississippi State (lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl, Jan. 1, 34-20)

Did the season start? USC
Can the season end?  West Virginia
Can the season never end?  Louisville (or Clemson, though really, Louisville more so!)

GAMES
Play this again (Jan. 1-7):  Outback Bowl – No. 10 South Carolina 33, No. 18 Michigan 28

(Dec. 15-31)

Play this again:  Peach, I mean, Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

Also, play this again:  New Mexico Bowl – Arizona 49, Nevada 48
(All Bowls)

Never play this again: Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State 58, Purdue 14
Don’t bother with this one again, eitherIdaho Potato Bowl – No. 22 Utah State 41, Toledo 15

What? Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

HuhHoliday Bowl — Baylor 49, No. 17 UCLA 26

Are you kidding me? Sun Bowl — Georgia Tech 21, USC 7

Oh – my – God: Sugar Bowl – No. 21 Louisville 33, No. 3 Florida 23

Wow, dudeBCS National Championship – erstwhile No. 2 Alabama 42, erstwhile No. 1 Notre Dame 14

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Cal Sport Media / AP Images

That’s why you line them up and play.  My father repeated this mantra to me as I was growing up.  Going in to the BCS National Championship game, it seemed as though Notre Dame and Alabama were rather evenly matched on paper.  The Fighting Irish had some rather impressive wins on their resume this year, far more impressive than the mediocre schedule they had played in recent years.  Beating a tough Stanford squad at home, going on the road to humiliate Oklahoma, and then closing out the regular season on the west coast to beat USC, all in the same year, is no small feat.  With such a record, it looked like Notre Dame was back, ready to butt heads with the big boys for national prominence.

Moreover, it was supposed to be a down year for the SEC, remember?  Michigan played South Carolina down to the wire (though seriously, the overall outcome was as predicted, if not by a slightly truncated margin of error), and an underachieving Nebraska challenged a, well, underachieving Georgia squad.  Mississippi State, for what a great regular season had – by MSU standards, at least – came for naught when they coughed it up to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl.  The most striking example of building the case for a SEC down year was the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.  No way, under normal circumstances would LSU lose to Clemson, though to be sure, the ACC team has been known to pull one over on the SEC team in that bowl game (remember the 2001 Peach Bowl between Auburn and North Carolina?).  No. 3 Florida inexplicably losing to No. 21 Louisville can also add fuel to that fire (not that U of L’s win is something to be rued outside of SEC country!).

Forget that the SEC had three losses going into this game.  The conference was 5-3, to be exact; still a winning record.  Look at the Bama team itself.  They had graduated tons of talent to the NFL.  Quarterback A.J. McCarron was not a transcendent player at that position (as one often expects on a team that would be in the running for the national title).  The offensive line was young and inexperienced.  The Crimson Tide’s defense was not overwhelming, either, especially when compared to the smothering D’s of recent champion squads.  When paired up against the other team, one could readily predict some clearly potential mismatches.  After all, Notre Dame’s receiving corps was big and talented, and proved to be a game-winning factor throughout the season, as the Irish’s opponents had no answer for that part of their offense.

But there was more.  What gave the Irish the strong look of national viability was that Coach Brian Kelly had done an amazing job of massively upgrading the team’s defense.  At a school this is much more academically rigid as ND, certain recruiting restrictions tend to put the defensive side of the ball at a disadvantage.  One can recruit smart linemen, quarterbacks, tight ends, and receivers, after all, and they are out there.  Defense is another issue.  Never as well-choreographed as offensive, players on that side of the ball tend to be a bit more reckless, and often have to be to make key stops.  Making good grades and doing what defensive players have to do to succeed on the field is oftentimes an incompatibility.  Yet Kelly somehow made it work.

So how did things turn out they did?  Even yours truly predicted a close game, at least until some time in the 3rd quarter.  Turns out, in hindsight, we all made the same mistake we made going into the 2007 BCS game.  That year, Ohio State was the undefeated, No.1  team.  Florida got in the game almost as an afterthought.  Yet despite a touchdown by the Buckeyes on the opening kickoff, the Gators dominated from then on, leaving many viewers in a state of shock and disbelief, and also to ask each other:  how did we not see this coming?

The answer comes in two parts.  The simplest part is, they are SEC teams.  Florida then and Alabama this year played in the most brutal of all college football conferences.  Anybody who emerges as the conference champion is battle-hardened, battle tested, and ready and able to go toe-to-toe with anybody else in the country.  If one does not believe that the SEC, despite its down year this year, is still not the best conference in the country, you are both blind and detached from reality.  For one, SEC teams have won every national title since the 2006-’07 season; that’s seven consecutive years and counting.  But even more to the point, the NFL is the ultimate truth serum when it comes to who produces the best players in college football.  One NFL team general manager once observed that you could field a competitive team in the pros just by drafting players out of the Southeastern Conference.  Lots of money, along with people’s mortgages and livelihoods, rest on making such key decisions – think about that.

So Ohio State then, and Notre Dame this year, were frankly NOT consistently playing the same level of competition that SEC teams face week in and week out.  It’s fine for Notre Dame to beat Oklahoma on the road, but to turn right around the struggle at home to Pittsburgh the next game should have raised a few more eyebrows than it did.

The other part to explain how Bama ended up dominating Notre Dame is that Nick Saban is the best college coach in the business.  He learned his grinder’s work ethic from his father growing up in West Virginia, and learned how to be detail-oriented as an NFL assistant under Bill Belichick.  Being detail-oriented is a transferrable skill that works well at either the college or the pro level.  Saban knows how to prepare.  Alabama might have seemed relatively weak (compared to recent teams) having to go from one tough game to another (LSU then Texas A&M, for example).  But give Saban a full month to prepare, and the team’s true potential shines through.  Pay no attention to the Tide getting humiliated to Utah in the 2008 Sugar Bowl; pay attention to Saban’s, and the team’s, more recent body of work, that being three national titles out of the past four years.  They say that hindsight is 20-20, and in this case, it most certainly is:  Bama played better competition throughout the year, had even better overall athletes, and are guided by the best coach in the business.  Sometimes, you have to line them up and play just to be able to see those things with sufficient clarity.

Teams that hit the wall November 29, 2012

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Ohio U:  The Bobcats were off to a great start under Frank Solich.  They won seven consecutive games, and were even ranked No. 24 going into the Miami (Ohio) game on Oct. 27.  After that game, they were undefeated no more.  The team lost the next four of five games, including their last one to currently No. 18 Kent State.  That loss was understandable, even excusable.  Losing to Ball State the previous week?  Less understood, even less excusable.  But losing to Bowling Green?  No excuse at all.  Perhaps the Bobcats just ran out of energy, which is one form of hitting the proverbial wall.

Correction:  A well-informed, experienced observer brought something else to my attention regarding Ohio U.  The biggest reason they hit the proverbial wall was injuries, especially injuries to their offensive line.  By season’s end, they were playing third-string linemen without any subs — brutal!  Upon further review, that might explain their loss to Bowling Green after all!

Mississippi State:  Poor MSU (the Magnolia State MSU, not the Great Lakes State MSU).  They try so hard, but they try to excel in the most brutal of all college football neighborhoods.  Dan Mullen has done the Yeoman’s work making the Bulldogs more than respectable, and making their fan base believe  in the team’s potential.  Seven consecutive games, seven consecutive wins:  so far, so good.  Then came the game at Alabama:  automatic loss.  Fair enough.  Still ranked No. 16, they were to play Texas A&M at home.  That turned out not so well, either.  The next game was at LSU; care to guess how that turned out?  The thing was, after the big win over Arkansas (45-14), one would think that the worst was behind them.  After all, in the Egg Bowl (their traditional rivalry game against Mississippi), they were favored.  Ole Miss is mediocre, and Mississippi State has had, all things considered, a great season.  But then they inexplicably lost to the Rebels 41-24.  What gives?  They obviously hit the wall, but how?  Was it loss of energy, in clear case of Ohio U, or was it just the more brutal part of their schedule?  The latter cannot explain things alone, since, hello, they lost to Ole Miss, and though the Rebels have improved, they have not improved that much.  The answer might therefore be, a little of both.  Let us hope Dan Mullen can allow for some of the energy in the team to recover for the bowl game.

West Virginia:  The Mountaineers were flying high after their big debut in the Big XII, beating Baylor at home in an offensive explosion for the ages, 70-63.  The following week, they journeyed to Austin to take on then-No. 11 Texas, where they beat the host Longhorns 48-45.  It went downhill for five straight weeks after that, with consecutive losses to Texas Tech (49-14), Kansas State (55-14), TCU (39-38), Oklahoma State (55-34), and Oklahoma (50-49).  Welcome to the Big XII, Dana Holgorsen.  The obvious wall WVU hit was tough schedule, plain and simple.  That said, five tough losses obviously took something out of the Mountaineers as well, since they had to struggle to beat Iowa State this past weekend.  Whether they have recovered any energy at all will be demonstrated when they play Kansas this upcoming week for what should be a fairly easy clean-up win.

Louisville:  So much for running the table for Louisville after losing to Syracuse 45-17 on the road for their tenth game.  To be sure, most of their wins up to that point were a little more than close for comfort, such as beating North Carolina only 39-34, beating Southern Miss 21-17 (the rain notwithstanding), or beating awful South Florida only 27-25.  With such a pattern of wins, one would think an ugly loss would be inevitable, if only to get it out of their system.  Sadly, whatever ailed the Cardinals in Syracuse did not yet pass, for the following game, they coughed up another loss at home to Connecticut in the third overtime.  Worse yet, they only have until this Thursday to bounce back on the road against Rutgers in order to win a BCS bowl berth.  The Scarlet Knights lost badly that same day to Pittsburgh, so both teams are in a must-win situation.  But with the recent pattern of play, the concern remains that U of L might have lost their energy.   Thus, the upcoming proposition is dicey at best.  Charlie Strong might want to go easy on his boys so they can get their energy.

Miami Duke FootballAddendum 12-07-12 — Duke:  Part of me says “poor Duke,” while the other part of me says “hey, all things considered, they’re doing pretty well.”  But nevertheless, they were flying high during the middle of the season, or high by Duke standards at least!  Throught Oct. 6, they were 5-1, with the one loss coming to them on the road against Stanford.  Any reasonable person would quickly excuse that!  Then the next week, they lossed to Virginia Tech, 41-20.  Fair enough.  Moreover, credit goes to this team, as the following week, they rebounded to beat North Carolina 33-30.  Then came four consecutive losses in their last four regular season games, first to Florida State (48-7; imagine that!), then to Clemson (56-20), then to Georgian Tech (42-24 — keep in mind that the Yellow Jackets run out of the flexbone!), and then lossed a shootout to Miami (52-45).  In the first three out of four, they were clearly out-manned.  The last loss could be attributed to having too much stuffing beat out of them by the first three of those four teams, hence having nothing left in the tank against the ‘Canes.  But at least they got a Belk Bowl berth, and have a decent shot at winning it, too, since Cincinnati’s head coach Butch Jones just took the Tennessee job.