Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bruce Pearl can flat out coach

Yeah, I said it. The truth hurts sometimes. I don't necessary like the man, but it has more to do with him coaching at Tennessee then any other factor.

Bruce Pearl has done the impossible. He made Tennessee MEN'S Basketball matter! Now he's on the verge of punching a ticket to the Final 4 if his team can beat the equally talented mastermind Tom Izzo and Michigan State this afternoon.

This is no small task what Pearl is accomplishing (no, I'm not talking about creepy moments with Lane kiffin's wife). He took over a program in disarray from the imcompetent Buzz Peterson and Jerry Green's lack of discipline earlier in the decade. Add in the troubled regime of Kevin O'Niel and the lack of success of the Wade Houston era, Tennessee hadn't seen much success let alone winning records since Don Devoe in the 1980's.

But now its 2K10, and Pearl routinely has the Vols in the Sweet 16. Making the NCAA tournament has become an afterthought since he's made it 5 consecutive times since taking over in Knoxville in 2006. Pearl cut his teeth as head coach at D-2 Southern Indiana, winning a national title. Then at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he routed higher seeded Alabama and Boston College on the way to the Sweet 16, paving the way for his run to Knoxville.

The fact that Pearl is winning in Knoxville is remarkable. Tennessee was the worst men's job in America at one of the Power 6 conferences(that title recently belonged to Auburn, but with a new arena & coach, current contenders include Penn St, Northwestern & Rutgers). Look at what your up against. First, its a football school, not shocking for the SEC, but UT routinely has drawn 100,000 on Fall Saturdays for years. Secondly, Pat Summitt & the Lady Vols. UT fans love their Lady Vols and why not. They have the winningest coach and the national titles to go with the wins. It was routine for the Lady Vols to outdraw the men in crowd size. I remember Alabama playing a game there in the early 90's and 10,000 showed up for the men's game. They cleared the gym out and the Lady Vols drew 20,000 later in the evening!
Another reason UT was a terrible job was the arena, Thompson-Boling Arena. Its 23,000+ seats was designed to rival Rupp Arena. Problem is you get 15,000 at a game and it still looked empty compared to a smaller venue that seated 10,000 and was sold out. Add in that Tennessee is not a hotbed for high school basketball and you had a recipe for disaster.

But Pearl has taken a place so many have failed at and is getting the job done. First, instead of fighting football or the Lady Vols for attention, he embraced the traditions and probably has garnered more support in the process. He's a shameless promoter/marketer, stopping throughout the southeast talking to Vol Club groups, attempting to get fans to support his team at road venues throughout the SEC. Its routine now to see 2-3,000 Vol fans at places like Athens & Auburn when they hit the road. He makes appearances across campus to get students to come out and support his team. Thompson-Boling Arena has been renovated to include sky boxes, new scoreboards and is now a state of the art facility.

Add into this mix that Pearl is a very good game day coach, he's passionate and his team's play hard for him. As a result, he gets the most out of his talent. UT suspeneded 4 players hours before taking on Kansas in January, but never fear, Pearl turned to some lighly played walk ons to provide rest minutes for his remaining players and pulled off the upset of the year. By using his bench, he's kept team morale up and now is marching towards Indianapolis by putting the Vols into their first Elite 8.

Still a long way to go for Pearl to reach the Lady Vols, but its a work in process. You can bet Pat Summitt will be home watching the UT Men this afternoon and if they get to Indy, she'll be their supporting them too. Hopefully she won't be wearing that cheerleader outfit.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Random NCAA tourament thoughts...

Welcome to the NCAA tournament, where half the fans at the arena are dressed as empty seats! Some of these arenas are half full at best.

Just remember sports fans, first round upsets, while exciting, lead to crappy 2nd round and Sweet 16 games.

Did not watch the afternoon games, but apperantly Villanova lucked out for the 2nd straight year. Otherwise the Big East would have been winless on day 1.

Good to see Eddie Munster, I mean Billy Donovan, cashed in on his 2 NCAA titles with two straight NIT appearances and a 1st round NCAA exit. Its looking like Anthony Grant was a bigger key to his success day after day, since he recruited all those kids to Gainesville for the national title runs before leaving for VCU. I bet Billy wishes he had kept the Orlando Magic job.

Bruce Pearl must be livin right. Draws the incompetent Steve Fisher & SDSU in round 1 and now get a 14 seed Ohio in round 2. He's headed to his 5th Sweet 16 in 6 years between UT and UWM.

As for today, I'll be watching the Temple game and thats it. Taking the kids to the Alabama Gymnastics (#1) meet this evening vs Michigan (#10).

Temple-Cornell Preview: This shoould be a great game between two underseeded teams. Temple should be atleast a 4, probably a 3 and Cornell is atleast a 10 or better.

I was thinking about this last night, but outside of the SEC and Temple, I really can't name any players on any of these teams, except for Cornell, mainly because I watched them come into Coleman and beat Alabama 71-67.

Louis Dale is an excellent point guard from Alabama (again, Jeff Lebo, Mark Gottfried, why did you not recruit this kid) and matches up well with Temple's Juan Fernandez. Ryan Brooks should cancel out Whitman (kid shoots like Jimmy Chitwood) for Cornell on the outside which takes us to the post players. Temple's inside game is much improved compared to the past two years, they can actually score and run plays for the inside men. They did a good job running sets in the A-10 Tournament. Problem is Cornell has a 7 foot center, who doesn't score much but he bothers alot of shots in the middle. Considering Temple is very deliberate on offense, he could disrupt the Owls.

Other concerns, Fran Dunphy is 1-8 in NCAA games, granted 6 of those losses came at Penn. His lone win is over Nebraska, but does that really count?

60= number of point Temple has been holding their opponents under during this win streak. See no reason for this to change today. Tough game, but hopfully the cherry and white will pull it out against the trendy 5/12 upset pick, Temple 62-57.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Is the Dook Fix in????

Welcome to the NCAA tournament, the only sporting event in the country where people become less interested as we move closer to the finals!

Conspiracy theorists are aligning themselves and taking shots at Dook, the NCAA and CBS. One look at the bracket on Sunday evening and it became evident that Coach K has a cakewalk to the Final 4. All I know is that if I was dealt this kind of hand at the Blackjack table, the pit boss would have come over and changed dealers.

The first argument for the Dookies preferential treatment comes in the fact that they received a #1 seed, and not just the last #1 seed (4th overall) but the third #1 seed ahead of Syracuse. Add to the fact that that Syracuse won the Big East and West Virginia won the Big East tournament, playing in a deeper, better conference, pundits will use this as the basis that Duke is not deserving of the 1 seed. The NCAA argues that Duke won its confernce and conference tournament to justify the 1 seed, but yet doesn't use the same criteria when underseeding a team like Temple?

Secondly, look at the bracket the Devils are in. They easily have the worst #2 seed in slumping Villanova, a team that can't play defense without fouling, #3 Baylor, which hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1950. #4 and injury plagued, overseeded Purdue is garbage and #5 Texas A & M is just not that good. This a joke.

But who can blame CBS and the NCAA for this set up. Ratings for college basketball have declined greatly over the years and nobody really discusses the sport till late February. The players and teams are not as good as in the past, so ratings decline and the sport has been dieing a slow death or becoming the indoor version of college baseball for the last 20 years with the early entries into the NBA draft.

Add into this mix that college hoop bluebloods like UCLA, North Carolina and UConn are absent, you have a set up for a rating disaster. Not good with negotiations for tournament broadcast rights coming up in the near future, the NCAA needs Duke to advance to get higher TV ratings to rake more $$$ out of CBS, ESPN, FOX or whoever gets the next round of NCAA Tournament broadcast rights. They still command a television audience, they are polarizing so it seems like a perfect storm set up for a conspircay.

Only problem is Dook has not been the old Dook for several years, constatnly getting bounced before the Sweet 16 (see Anthony Grant and VCU or Bob Huggins and West Virginia) and missing out on the Final 4 all together since 2004. So CBS needs Dook and well, it looks like maybe Coach K needs the help too based on his results in recent years.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Selection Sunday is really Mediocre Sunday

Bubbles Bubbles, looks like Florida is in trouble.

Its selection sunday for college hoops and the pundits at CBS, ESPN and others will talk about how great this day is. Reality sets in for teams as their quote un quote "bubbles" burst and teams either get it or stay at home for March Madness.

But if you really think about, aren't we celebrating how mediocre some teams are? Who necessary cares if who is the last "at large" team to "get in." This would be like the NFL celebrating the last wild card team in or the 8th seed in the NBA or NHL playoffs.

Personally, I'd like the see tournmanet go back to 48 yeams instead of 64. Reduce the field so only the elite make it. I don't need to see the 5th and 6th best teams from major conferences make it to the post season. There is a reason why they finished 6th in their respective conference. I'm not watching the bowl game between the 5th place ACC team vs the 6th place Big 10 team so don't expect me to watch a similar contest in basketball either.

Of course, the recent talk is to expand to 96 teams, which would be a huge mistake. Its not necessary. Unlike a famous Sienfeld episode, shrinkage is not always a bad thing. It would make for better competition, higher intensity and only the best against the best. Not the best against the average.

Friday, March 12, 2010

College Basketball Musings...

What does Joe Lunardi do the other 51 weeks during the year?

The Big East is easily playing the best basketball. Tons of quality players, teams and coaches make for entertaining action, all centered at the World's Most Famous Arena.

Who is more relieved that Kentucky rallied to beat Alabama today? John Calipari, the old blue haired fans of the scalpers outside of Bridgestone Arena?

Chris Stewart said it best this afternoon, "I'll take Sela Ward over Ashley Judd anyday of the week."

Auburn fired Jeff Lebo today, not that anyone on the Plains noticed. Lebo will be an assistant with someone in the Carolina coaching fraternity next year.

Bill Rafftery, Jay Bilas, Steve Lavin and Joe Dean are the best color analysts in college basketball.

Duke has a cakewalk in the ACC.

Hate it for Purdue that they lost their best player for the year, they were a legit threat to make it to the Final Four.

Finally, watch out for Temple, if they get in the right bracket, they could make a run past the Sweet 16.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Rutgers to the Big 10/11... Was it a mistake by Penn State???

The Big 10/11's annual courtship of someone (usually Notre Dame) expanding into the conference is in full swing. Today's flavor seems to be The Sate University of New Jersey, otherwise known as the Rutgers. Other past flirtations have included Pittsburgh, Missouri and even Syracuse.

Many may ask, why Rutgers? Is it because they've dominated the Big East in Football winning several championships? Ahh, no. Is it because of award winning basketball? Nope. Academics? Puh-lease. College presidents may talk about academics, but its all about the benjamins. It has everything to do with being in metro New York and the 8 million TV households included in the market and the tv money that is sure to follow.

The goal simply stated is to make the Big 10/11 relevant in college football again. Add a 12th member, get in two divisions and have a championship game like the SEC has been staging for almost 20 years now. The SEC Championship has been a financial windfall for the conference since the first one was staged in 1992 at Legion Field in Birmingham. Its served as a defacto national semi-final game between Florida and Alabama the past two seasons and has produced 8 of the last 18 national champions, including the last four.

That my friends is power that Big 10/11 does not have anymore. The conference quits playing football the weekend before Thanksgiving and watches other conferences garner attention over the next two weeks while sitting home roasting marshmellows. Of course should we be surpsrised its taken the Big 10/11 this long to join the rest of the college football world, it only took them 500 years to add a conference basketball tournament.

So with the romancing of Rutgers in full swing, the better question to ask may be what has Penn State's addition done for the Big 10/11 since full membership began in 1993 and vice versa.

When the move was made, it seemed only natural that the Big 10/11 would add an additional team to go with PSU. But it never happened, despite the fact the SEC was adding Arkansas/South Carolina and the Big 12 was raiding the old Southwest Conference for its Texas members.

So what has happened to benefit Penn State. Personally, I see very little benefit for the Lions. The argument could be made they lost out on atleast one national championship in 1994 by being forced to go to the Rose Bowl to face a so-so Oregon team, instead of taking on Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Being an independent or even moving to the Big East, the Lions would have had that opportunity to play the Cornhuskers for all the marbles.

Atleast two other times this decade, the Lions stumbled on the road in late season conference games against so-so Iowa and Michigan teams derailing their chance at another national title appearance. Had they stayed as an independent or moved to the Big East, the Lions may have a couple of cyrstal footballs instead of an empty trophy case.

The numbers don't lie for Penn State. Between 1979-1986, the Lions played for the national championship on four occassions (Alabama/1979, Georgia/1982, Oklahoma/1985, Miami 1986), winning twice. Since full membership in 1993, the Lions haven't even sniffed the NC game despite having some great teams.

The other thing thats happened is that college football on the east coast is basically non-existent today since the Lions moved west. They were the dominant program in the east. Syracuse, West Virginia and Pittsburgh have all lost something in their programs since the yearly contest with the Lions have dispapeared. No big rivalries in the east seem to draw national interset. Their were times in the past the PSU vs take your pick attracted national attention. Not anymore. College football is almost non-existent in the east.

IF PSU moved to the Big East in the early 1980's, the argument could be made that not only could the Lions own the east coast but might own the nation. Instead, they've become a perenial 3rd-4th place team in the Big 10/11 and opened up the keystone state to Ohio St, Michigan and others to recruit against the Lions. OSU, Michigan and Mich. State have all had success with Pennsylvania players, kids they could not get other wise had the Lions not moved west.

The other unforseen consequence, the basketball program is in shambles. Many believed PSU would become as basketball power, they were headed for the Big 10/11, leaving Wreck Hall for the Bryce Jordan Center and headed for greener pastures then the Atlantic 10. Instead, the Lions have only made 2 NCAA tournaments since joining the conference have never been a factor in the Big 10/11 race.

In the meantime, Pittsburgh has become a basketball powerhouse by remaining in the Big East and Temple, Villanova and even St. Joe's have accomplished way more on the hardwood then the Lions. To me, its always been inexcusable for PSU to be so poor in hoops. There is talent in the state, they have a great facility, but I guess kids aren't going to go to a school that plays no games in the major metro areas of the east coast (NIT games in NYC don't count).

Although the Lions move to the Big 10 was greeted with great fanfare, I believe its really been a negative to PSU in terms of winning and even national exposure. The basketball team is still pitiful and the football team hasn't played for the big prize in almost 25 years. If Rutgers goes to the Big 10/11, it will be greeted with great fanfare, but just watch. They won't win championships, they will be an also ran in football and continue to be horrible in hoops, and New Jersey will be opened up for the rest of the conference to raid the states talent, just like Pennsylvania.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bingo Battle is ridiculous

To gamble or not to gamble, that is the question?

To the outsider, this whole issue has to look completely ridiculous. As I understand it, only 2 states don't have legalized gambling (meaning lottery, casinos, etc.), Utah and Alabama. Of course, fans of Big Love know that Bill Henrickson is teaming with Native American interests to create a Mormon themed casino to support his polygamist family in HBO's hit series.

Here in Alabama, we have Governor Bob Riley shutting down electornic Bingo Halls throughout the state, most notably Victoryland's successful business owner Milton McGregor. Of course, this is all in retaliation for McGregor investingating Riley's staff to find out they've been taking money from Mississippi Casino lobbyists.

Although its looks as if this story is still flying under the national radar, its squarely the number one topic in the news in Montgomery for the past month. Political rallies for and against gambling have led shoutdowns between patrons for both, including our own governor shouting over thousands of protestors. What an embarrassment this has become.

It was this writer's opinion that Bob Riley was going to go down as maybe the best governor in the history of Alabama prior to all this flare up. Riley has done alot of good things for the state, he's been progressive in luring more industry, creating jobs and better funding education. But this Bingo Battle has become his Waterloo.

I think the problem most people have with the situation is these electronic bingo/slot machines at Victoryland and other areas haven't sprung up over night. They've been in place since Riley took office in 2003 and have been attracting thousands of customers. Living in Atlanta, we would routinely see Victoryland commercials on television and bus loads of daytrippers headed to Macon County just like people on the East Coast would flock to Atlantic City. So why shut them down in 2K10 and not 5 years ago?

Now we have police raids, thousands of people out of work and tons of money going to lotteries in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee and casinos in Mississippi. My senior students that I teach can't believe that a lottery in Georgia pays for college tuition for state schools for students who have a B average in high school. What a difference in attitude and discipline in a school system this could provide with such incentive out there.

Bottom line is people are gonna gamble. Its here in Alabama and its here to stay. I can place a bet illegally with an acquantance right now for any college hoops or NBA game tonight or I can bet on an off shore account. Is the task force going to raid me? Highly doubtful.

So its time for the all involved to let the people of Alabama vote on a legitimate bill. If it passes, tax it just like alcohol, tobacco etc. Heaven knows we need the revenue in this state. If it doesn't pass, the state line mini marts to the north and east of us will continue to sell tons of lottery tickets and Biloxi will still have more Alabama car tags in its parking lots then any other state.