March 15, 2004
Tourney time

Well, even though the teams I really care about are in the NIT, I'm looking forward as always to the NCAA basketball tournaments. Mostly because just about everyone who has any kind of case to make gets a shot at the championship, I haven't become disgusted with college hoops the way I have with football and its corrupt and greedy BCS system. In a way, I actually think the field is tilting a bit towards the smaller, nontraditional schools. Billy Packer and Dick Enberg sort of get at the reason for this.

As he prepares for his 30th year broadcasting the NCAA Tournament's Final Four, CBS Sports analyst Billy Packer continues his remarkable attitude adjustment. Rather than grousing about the impact the NBA has had on college hoops, he revels in the game's unpredictability.

"There are as many as 25 teams that legitimately could earn their way to the Final Four," Packer said. "Where was Syracuse (the 2003 champion) a year ago? That is where this sport is, and that is why it's so healthy right now. There are so many arenas across this country where people this year could believe that if certain things fell in place, their team could make a run."

Packer has so embraced the new order that Dick Enberg, of all people, is now the most outspoken CBS voice regarding players who leave early for the NBA.

"I say to hell with them," Enberg said. "If they want to play on the pro level, that's terrific. I say let them go do it. ... I think it's just as exciting that, at the end of a championship game, we may have a chemistry major on the floor trying to protect the lead rather than some super one-time All-America who's about to jump as a sophomore to the NBA."

Enberg didn't quite take the next step, which is that being the kind of school that recruits four-year players is a competitive advantage for the Gonzagas of the world. I don't think more than a handful of programs will fall into that bucket, but those that do will put themselves in a very good position.

Today we also learn that the championship game of a couple of conference tournaments occur so late that the seeding committees ignore them. I just love it when these guys trip over their own avarice. Too bad that one of the participants in those games wasn't a school that wouldn't have made the NCAAs without winning their conference tourney. That really would have thrown a spanner into the works - they might have to come up with two brackets, one with and one without the shouldn't-be-there team.

Interesting suggestion from King Kaufman:

The Tournament actually starts Tuesday with the play-in game in Dayton between Florida A&M and Lehigh. The NCAA has to figure out a way to make this play-in deal more interesting and exciting. Maybe there should be a play-in for all four 16 seeds, with all four games happening in one day at one site. It might become kind of a thing, a big day for whacked-out hoops junkies. It could be one last chance for bubble teams that got left out, like Utah State and Notre Dame this year, though they'd have to start the Tournament by playing a No. 1. Not that I care about bubble teams. Got a better idea? Or are you looking forward to that big night in Dayton?

If the NCAAs expanded the play-in game to include the "first eight out" or whatever, it would certainly be interesting, but it would also have a huge impact on the NITs. Would you rather see your team in the play-in game for the right to (most likely) get shelled by a top seed, or would you rather take a shot at the NITs, where you could maybe go the distance? Would the NITs let the losers of these games join in their tournament after the drop out of the Big Dance?

If all of this is making you cover your ears and wish it would go away, the Couch Slouch feels your pain.

Finally, in local news, the University of Houston is reportedly giving former Longhorns coach Tom Penders a long look for their vacancy. I have to say, I don't know why you'd want to hire a guy who left his last two jobs under such a cloud of controversy, but stranger things have happened. Kevin? Greg? Alex? What do you guys think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 15, 2004 to Other sports | TrackBack

I'm not convinced Penders is a leading candidate. It looks like Wizig, who tends to get a fair amount wrong in his coverage of UH athletics, did every bit of his reporting from rumors on the CoogFans website. Kind of pitiful, really, but I don't think anybody but Berman can pick up a phone and actually talk to people.

That said, I'm willing to defer to Dave Maggard's judgment if it does turn out to be Penders. The big pluses for Penders are that he's won, that he turned a football school (Texas) into a competitive basketball school, and that he seemingly would know this area. The negatives are apparent from the links you provided. And it may just be that big time college basketball has passed him by (sort of like the last years Billy Tubbs spent at Oklahoma).

I've been intrigued by the possibility of Nolan Richardson, but he also brings some negatives (obviously). However, there's a Nolan Richardson assistant who's been spectacularly successful as a college head coach playing Nolan's style, who graduates his players, who knows this city (he's a Westbury grad), and whose price probably isn't too much for Dave Maggard. His name is Ron Cottrell, and he's sitting right across town at HBU. I hope Maggard at least gives him a couple of calls. I realize HBU is NAIA, but it seems to me UH is going to have to reach a little, or settle for a guy with more baggage than some of us might like. And as a Nolan assistant, Cottrell has experience in the bigtime anyway, just not as head man. Between Cottrell and Penders, I'd much prefer UH give Cottrell a shot.

All of this, of course, is just the $0.02 of a guy who doesn't really follow college hoops that closely. :)

Posted by: kevin whited on March 15, 2004 8:11 AM

I'm sure it has nothing to do with the fact that I root for Lehigh, having grown up in the southeastern PA area, but they shouldn't be in the play-in game. It ought to be Florida A&M and Alabama State. And Utah State got jobbed.

In March, 1996, my eventual alma mater, San Jose State, squeaked into the Tournament by winning their conference championship. They had a losing record that season, so they got to play the number one overall seed, Kentucky. I worked for the campus bookstore at the time and actually got paid to go to a local sports bar and watch the game (I had to sell t-shirts at half-time). The first 16 minutes are one of my favorite sports memories -- it was a close game with several lead changes and the place went wild every time we scored. Of course, Kentucky was able to put in guys from off the bench and they were considerably better than our guys off the bench. Kentucky basically ate SJSU for lunch in the second half, but there will always be those 16 minutes.

Those 16 minutes (more for some teams, sadly less for others) are what it's all about. I didn't watch college basketball until that month and it's why I fell in love with the Tournament.

Posted by: Sue on March 15, 2004 9:11 AM

Penders may not have flamed out as spectacularly as Jim Harrick (and his test-giving son), but he's not far above him on the lack of ethics food chain.

God bless Rick Barnes!

Posted by: Norbizness on March 15, 2004 9:56 AM

Utah State did indeed get jobbed, and as a result my guys (the other UH) get to play them on their home floor in the NIT. Fun.

Posted by: Linkmeister on March 16, 2004 1:30 AM