Tuesday was an interesting day for Southern California sports fans. Former UCLA coach Steve Lavin had his prayers answered and he was hired to become the new head coach at St. John’s. Former USC coach Tim Floyd was plucked from the New Orleans Hornets staff to serve as UTEP’s head coach, replacing Tony Barbee who left for Auburn. So the obvious question is … who lasts longer at their job? Though the answer may seem obvious based on coaching merit, the question is trickier than you think. Let’s examine some of the factors at play:
Pete Gillen famously mused that Duke is “on TV more than Leave it to Beaver reruns.” Perhaps his statement should be amended to say, “Certainly Duke is Duke, they get more favorable draws and favorable calls than anyone,” because that’s how I feel after seeing the Blue Devils advance to their latest Final Four. Give the Blue Devils credit for having an excellent regular season and winning four games in the tournament but I can’t get past a couple of issues.
The first issue is one about which I complained on Selection Sunday and many times before — Duke got a favorable seed and favorable draw. They were the third number one seed — ahead of Syracuse despite the Orange’s undisputed more impressive resume — and they somehow avoided the top two number two seeds in Ohio State and West Virginia. Not only did they receive a struggling Villanova team in their bracket (losers of five of seven entering the tourney), but they also got Purdue as their four seed — a team that struggled to score once they lost Robbie Hummel to a knee injury. The NCAA took care of their part, Duke did theirs.
The second issue is one that tipped the South Regional finals game in Duke’s favor — favoritism from the refs. Although I felt like the game was called evenly the first 35 minutes or so, three calls in the final five minutes helped take the ball out of Baylor’s hands and give Duke more opportunities for victory. Let’s go over each one.
At the end of the Michigan State/Tennessee Elite Eight game in St. Louis, the Spartans faced a decision. Raymar Morgan was at the free throw line with his team up 70-69. There was 1.8 seconds left on the clock and Morgan was preparing to attempt his second free throw. The question was whether Morgan should try and make the free throw to give the Spartans a two point lead or if he should miss it. The logic behind intentionally missing the free throw was that Michigan State could either claim the rebound and hold on for the win or there could be a mad scramble for possession that lasted 1.8 seconds, giving Michigan State the win without Tennessee ever having a crack at a Hail Mary. Because Tennessee was planning to call timeout had Morgan made the free throw, the only scenario with an upside was missing the shot intentionally.
Morgan missed, Brian Williams of Tennessee rebounded and called timeout, allowing the Vols a chance at a miracle three. They missed badly and Michigan State got the win. Tom Izzo unquestionably made the right decision here because the only scenario presenting an advantage for the Spartans was having Morgan miss — which he did. Although the outcome wasn’t what Michigan State hoped for, it was still the right move. Even Kansas coach Bill Self agreed with the move afterward on CBS saying it’s a 90% chance Tennessee winds up shooting a three so that second free throw doesn’t matter — might as well try and miss to run off the 1.8 seconds without giving the Vols a chance to win. Self knew that, Izzo knew that, heck even I knew that, but there’s one person who didn’t agree with the move; he’s a man with a basketball pedigree and a coaching background — he’s Steve Lavin. Here’s what the former UCLA coach said on ESPNEWS when asked to break down the decision (keep in mind, the play was running on TV as he talked so he gave a little play-by-play too):
West Virginia pulled off the unthinkable by beating top-seeded Kentucky in the East Regional finals on Saturday night. Because Kentucky was the favorite having lost just two games all season, the Mountaineers players were in an extra celebratory mood following the win. What better way to show off what you accomplished than by ridiculing your slayed opponent? As I learned via Diamond Leung at the College Basketball Nation Blog, some of the West Virginia players began mocking Kentucky by doing the John Wall Dance — a bicep flex and twist that the Kentucky freshman popularized. Luckily for us, The Big Lead found a video of the celebration for us to see. Here’s the video of the West Virginia players doing the John Wall dance and skip to the :45 mark for the fun:
Although I like to see players win and lose with class, I can understand why they want to celebrate an achievement. You just better make sure you can take it before you can dish it. That memo goes for LeBron James, Shawne Merriman, and LaDainian Tomlinson, amongst others.
The final possession of the Ohio State/Tennessee Sweet Sixteen game on Friday night was significant for reasons beyond the outcome of the game and it leaves me asking several questions. One, keeping in mind that Evan Turner is Ohio State’s best player, should he have passed the ball to one of his teammates, namely David Lighty who was open at the top of the key, instead of taking either one of his horrible three point attempts to tie the game? Two, was he fouled by J.P. Prince on the final shot that was blocked as time expired? Three, was Turner a poor sport for brushing aside the hand of teammate Jon Diebler who tried to pick him up and for walking past Tennessee without congratulating them for winning? Before we answer those questions let’s examine the video of Evan Turner’s last shot against Tennessee via Matt Norlander at The Dagger:
To answer the first question, Turner took a very low percentage three pointer from the corner. He would have been better off shooting from the wing or passing to Lighty at the top of the key. It also goes without saying that his second shot had zero percentage because Prince was in his face. To answer the second question, Prince did appear to foul Turner so Evan should have been at the line with a chance to tie the game. Lastly, although I feel Turner’s pain for seeing his season come to an end — especially after he missed the team’s final three shots — he still should be more respectful of his teammates and opponents. I will also note that this probably happens frequently in athletics and that we really only see it if/when we’re looking for it, but Turner is a high-profile star so his actions are magnified, and I don’t disagree with the assertion that he was bitter. Turner should treat his teammates better and he he should be more gracious to his opponents. Now I understand why Mark Titus nicknamed Evan “The Villain” and where Titus’ reference to Turner as a headcase comes from.
Two final thoughts, one this is different from LeBron because LeBron’s worse mistake was avoiding the media after losing. I can understand being upset immediately after losing a game, but you have to face the same media that praises you following wins even after a loss. He even admitted that was a mistake. Lastly, that same chip on the shoulder Turner has during games that got him into trouble after the game is an excellent characteristic; who doesn’t want their player to have a killer instinct during battle? You just have to know when to turn it off.
Video: Evan Turner blocked at the buzzer; did he walk off the floor without shaking Tennessee’s hands? [The Dagger]
Naming the Villain [Club Trillion]
Evan Turner Wasn’t Always So Friendly [The Sporting Blog]
Duke beat Purdue Friday night 70-57 to advance past the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since their ’03-’04 Final Four team. The Blue Devils have gone an impressive 139-34 in that span and even had a one seed in ’05-’06, yet they weren’t able to win more than two games in the tourney in any of those years. That fact hasn’t been lost upon the media, and apparently it’s been known by the players. When one reporter attempted to ask point guard Jon Scheyer about this year’s team advancing past the Sweet Sixteen following the win over Purdue, his choice of words drew the ire of Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K interrupted the reporter in the middle of his question and called him out for using the word “meltdown.” The reporter kind of slunk away and even apologized for using the word “meltdown.” Krzyzewski 1, needling reporter 0. Here’s the exchange as best as I can explain it:
When Kentucky and Cornell met in the East Region semifinals on Thursday night, much more was at stake than a position in the Elite Eight. I’m not even talking about coaching jobs, playing careers, or fan excitement. Nope. I’m talking about credibility, maddening predictions, and domain names. I’m talking about Jay Bilas’ prediction that Cornell would reach the Elite Eight coming up short.
Two weeks ago when the brackets were revealed on Selection Sunday, I slammed Bilas for his absurd prediction that Cornell would advance to the Elite Eight. While Cornell surprised me by beating Wisconsin and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, they ultimately came up way short of his proclamation, butting their collective heads against the impenetrable roadblock that is Kentucky. Had Cornell won and advanced to the Elite Eight, I promised to change the site’s name to Jay Bilas Sports for a week and apologize to the man personally for my sharp criticism. Think I was worried? I didn’t even break a sweat as Kentucky hammered Cornell 62-45, holding the Little Magenta to 33% shooting and only 24% on three pointers. Kentucky made Cornell look like a silly, scrappy, unathletic opponent when they went on a 30-6 run to close the first half. Even though the 17-point margin is satisfying enough for me to puff my chest out, it would have been much worse if Cornell hadn’t resorted to the hack-a-DeMarcus strategy (a smart plan albeit).
In case you weren’t keeping track of this story (believe me, I know you weren’t), my Bilas post started getting peppered with comments from Cornell fans, Bilas supporters, and LBS haters, all laughing at me and telling me I would have to get a new website name ready. Well, to all of you, I would just like to say kiss my big fat brown bag. This is why I went off on Bilas in the first place. Saying Cornell would reach the Sweet Sixteen is one thing. Telling me they’re going to the Elite Eight by way of Kentucky is a complete other notion. The Little Magenta was good enough to stun us with wins over Temple and Wisconsin. They were completely over-matched against Kentucky. Any basketball fan or analyst knew that was the case. That was the difference between the sane and the insane.