Tag Archives: Pac-12 basketball

Big Baller Brand Isn’t a Big Baller

LaVar Ball is offering the debut basketball shoe for Big Baller Brand for the price of $495. If you want a pair signed by his son, Lonzo, those will cost you $995. I’ll come right out and say it. LaVar doesn’t understand how this stuff works. There’s market value and then there is intrinsic value. Both are important components in pricing an item and that is what seems to have escaped the mind of LaVar.

After introducing the shoe and its price, LaVar, as has often been the case, found himself subjected to harsh criticism. The question on most everyone’s minds was how could he charge $495 for a shoe from a relatively unknown brand? In LaVar’s mind, that was an easy question to answer.

“I figure that’s what the shoe is worth,” Ball said. “When you are your own owner you can come up with any price you want.”

LaVar isn’t wrong when making either of those two statements. When you’re the owner of a company, you can charge whatever price you want for your product. And I can’t deny his belief that $495 is what his product is worth. However, there is (usually) a little bit of math involved when setting the price for a product. I anticipate a market correction for the price of the Big Baller Brand shoe. And it there’s not, his company will soon be a distant memory.

Intrinsically speaking, LaVar believes that he’s set an accurate price. His belief, based on little to no market research, is that Big Baller Brand has already surpassed Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas. Based on 2015 estimates, the brand value of Nike is $15.9 billion, Adidas’ is at $6.2 billion, and Under Armour’s is at $5 billion. Sure, LaVar, the intrinsic value of Big Baller Brand is better than these established competitors that you mocked.

LaVar also mocked Foot Locker while ridiculing Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas. However, using Foot Locker as a gauge of market value for basketball shoes, it’s seen that the most expensive basketball shoe for Nike is $365.99, Under Armour’s most expensive shoe is $149.99, and Adidas’ priciest basketball shoe is $159.99. Based on the price point for the shoe, LaVar sees his product as a boutique shoe and that’s why he scoffed at the idea of selling Big Baller Brand at Foot Locker. But he also considers the Big Baller Shoe to be a legitimate basketball shoe so using Foot Locker as a measure of market value is accurate.

And then there is LaVar’s marketing message.

LaVar isn’t wrong. Every product isn’t for everyone. But Big Baller Brand isn’t even a big baller. As Ric Flair says, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” Right now, “The Man” is Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas. LaVar at least needs to turn a single dollar of profit before running his mouth.

Big Baller Brand has a huge social media presence thanks to LaVar always having a statement to make about his fledgling business. Some love LaVar while others, such as myself, find him to be a loud-mouthed ringmaster for himself. But whether the publicity is good, bad, or indifferent, any press is good press.  Will it be enough to generate a profit for his $495 debut shoes? Time will tell but I’m not writing off Nike, Under Armour, or Adidas just yet.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Pixabay

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It’s not a Homer Pick if my Team can Win it All

As much as I love the Louisville Cardinals basketball team, I always muse that it’s much easier to remain objective picking my March Madness bracket if the Cards don’t make the field.  Now, that’s typically a rare occurrence, and fortunately, over the last decade or so, UofL has been in the discussion as a national title contender, so picking them to win isn’t an outlandish proposition.  This past Monday, I rapidly completed my bracket, and immediately tweeted my prediction that Louisville will win it all.  Within minutes of making announcing my choice, I had several friends drop the “Homer” label on me.  So, I ask the question, is it really a homer pick if the team you root for is a legitimate contender?  I say no.  Ponder that as you read through my predictions for the entire bracket.

East Region

The defending Champion Villanova Wildcats reside here, and it’s their region for the taking.  Jay Wright’s team is battle-tested, and looks more than capable of a repeat.  Let’s not be too hasty, as there are a number of hazards on the road to Phoenix.

Dangerous on Day 1:

Watch out for the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks.  Kevin Keatts is from the Rick Pitino coaching tree, and he has put together a dangerous squad.  In last year’s tournament, the Seahawks pushed Duke to the limit in the Round of 64 before losing a hard-fought game by just eight points.   The Seahawks will push the pace and play pressure defense, which will be in direct contrast to Virginia, as they get another ACC foe this year.  If UNCW can dictate tempo, it could spell early round trouble for the Cavaliers.  While Tony Bennett’s team is always one of the toughest defensively, their style keeps opponents within striking distance, which could play right into Wilmington’s hands.

Early Exit:

Baylor ripped off 15 straight wins to open the season, and looked like an elite team.  While the Bears aren’t completely abysmal, an early disappearing act may be on its way.  Baylor is 5-5 over its final 10 games; and is scuffling enough that a loss to New Mexico State in the opening round, or a run-in with a powerful and hungry SMU team in the Round of 32 should be the demise of Scott Drew’s club.

Pivotal Match-Up:

The most critical match-up to affect this region will be Virginia vs. Villanova, part two.  Part one on January 29 was an absolute classic, as the Cavaliers led most of the way, on the road no less.  The Wildcats scratched and clawed their way back into the game late, and won 61-59 on Donte DiVincenzo tip in as time expired.  I suspect round two will be just as grinding as the first meeting, only with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.  I have Nova surviving it, but no matter which team comes out of it, they’ll be in prime form to make it out of the East Region.

Dark Horse:

Fittingly, the SMU Mustangs are the dark horse in the East.  A bit under the radar, and under -appreciated coming out of the AAC, Tim Jankovich’s team has something to prove.  The Mustangs have an awful lot of length, and a ton of experience, led by the powerful Semi Ojeleye.   The Ponies haven’t lost since January 22 at Cincinnati 66-64, and the Bearcats finished just a game behind SMU in the standings.  Facing a favorable #3 Seed in Baylor, and then a Duke team which is heavily reliant on young players, there’s a strong chance the Mustangs can aptly fulfill the dark horse role.

Who Wins the East?

I’ve gotta stick with the Villanova Wildcats.  Whether the Cats have it in them to repeat once they arrive at the Final Four, I can’t say, or at least won’t say just yet; but this team has enough talented pieces to chase a mini dynasty.  With a rock-solid backcourt of Jaylen Brunson and senior leader Josh Hart, along with last year’s hero, senior Kris Jenkins, it would be a good bet to book a reservation for Nova in Phoenix.

West Region

The OCD in me loves that we actually got two western teams as the top seeds with #1 Gonzaga and #2 Arizona.  It feels like there’s a real opportunity for the west coast to get some representation in the Final Four; and in the case of Zona, have a distinct home court advantage.

Dangerous on Day 1:

The West has many double-digit seeds that I think can stop some hearts in the Round of 64.  Xavier is one, although they’re not an under-the-radar candidate.  The same goes for VCU.  However, the 12, 13, 14 seeds, Princeton, Bucknell, and Florida Gulf-Coast may also pose some problems.  My personal pick is Bucknell.  The Bison have the mid-major formula of solid veteran guards, along with sufficient frontcourt size, which leads to upsets.  Guys like Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland, and Stephen Brown may inject themselves into the American consciousness with a win of West Virginia, and potential battle with Notre Dame.  The West may be blown up by day two.

Early Exit:

West Virginia is my odds-on favorite to get bounced.  Naturally, as I picked Bucknell, as my double-digit danger choice; and the Bison face the Mountaineers.  Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with West Virginia.  Bob Huggins’ team got plucked in the Round of 64 last year, and feel like a good candidate to get bounced, in what could be a topsy-turvy region.  If I had to pick another top seed that may be at peril, it would be Florida State.   Leonard Hamilton has put together a talented group led by sophomore 6-7 guard Dwayne Bacon.  However, these Seminoles haven’t experienced the tournament yet.  If the Noles get past Florida Gulf Coast, the Round of 32 could be the end of the road.

Pivotal Match-Up:

A Sweet 16 tilt between Gonzaga and Notre Dame is my key match-up for this region.  Mark Few has had the Bulldogs on the precipice of the Final Four in the past, only to have his talented, expectation-laden teams fall short.  This rendition of Gonzaga has a go-to star in Nigel Williams-Goss, and plenty of heft manning the middle with Przemek Karnowski.  Many feel like this is the year for the Zags to finally break through.  Not so fast.  The Golden Domers are essentially the same team that has been to the Elite Eight the past two seasons.  Mike Brey’s team is led by the versatile Bonzie Colson, and has plenty of exterior firepower as well with Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem.  I think the Irish make a third consecutive trip to the Elite Eight, and leave Gonzaga fans longing for that elusive Final Four run.

Dark Horse:

The aforementioned Notre Dame Fighting Irish team is my dark horse.  Yes, the Irish are a #5 seed, but certainly are not considered favorites to escape the region.  The experience on hand, along with the tournament success this team has gained over the previous two seasons, makes Brey’s team extremely dangerous.  Assuming Notre Dame gets past Gonzaga, there’s no reason that Arizona, or whichever opponent finds their way to the Elite Eight, can’t be eliminated by the Fighting Irish.

Who Wins the West?

I’ve barely mentioned the Arizona Wildcats up until now, but Sean Miller’s squad is my choice to win the West.  The Wildcats are at the top of their game heading into the NCAA Tournament, having won nine of their last 10 games, including capturing the Pac-12 tournament title.  6-5 sophomore Alonzo Trier is a do-everything type of player and 7-0 super frosh Lauri Markkanen is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the country.  Miller just missed the Final Four in 2015.  This year he’ll get Zona to Phoenix for a shot at the National Championship.

Midwest Region

The Midwest Region seems to have laid out fairly well for my Louisville Cardinals.  Without a doubt Kansas can’t be taken lightly as the #1 seed.  However, #3 seed Oregon just lost a key player.  #4 Purdue is good, but definitely not elite, and the Cardinals have already beaten the Boilermakers.  And #5 seed Iowa State has been a huge disappointment the last few years come March.  Of course, I say this, and the entire region could blow-up in my face.

Dangerous on Day 1:

When I look at the Midwest, I think chalk.  It just feels like a section of the bracket that will end up staying to form, as few of the double-digit seeds feel like a huge upset threat.  If I had to guess which teams have a shot, I’d point out Nevada and Vermont.  The Wolfpack won the Mountain West regular season, and tournament titles, and closed the season winning eight in a row.  The Catamounts haven’t lost a game since December 21, closing out the regular season with 21 wins in a row.  Both teams face opponents – Iowa State and Purdue – which have displayed the propensity to get clipped early in the tournament.  Beware.

Early Exit:

I referenced in my Midwest Region Preview yesterday, that Oregon’s biggest challenge heading into the NCAA Tournament is the loss of Chris Boucher to injury.  Most teams that suffer loss of key personnel typically either rally around it, or sulk and lose focus.  My bet is on the latter.  Top player Dillon Brooks can be a star, but he also has his own meltdowns and antics which distract from the team.  Round of 64 opponent Iona played NCAA tourney participants Florida State and Nevada early in the year; and knocked off Nevada in the second match-up.  The Ducks will likely get past the Gaels, but my prediction is that Oregon will run into red-hot Rhode Island, and get shot down quickly.

Pivotal Match-Up:

It may seem a bit early to be considered a pivotal match-up, but the potential Kansas/Michigan State game will play a major factor in this region.  The Spartans have been down this season.  So down, that for a while it felt like Tom Izzo’s team wouldn’t make the Big Dance.  Well, here come the Spartans, landing at a #9 seed, just in time to bug the hell out of top seeded Kansas.  Honestly, there’s no reason the Jayhawks shouldn’t knock off MSU.  However, the one major weakness for Kansas is in the frontcourt where Bill Self’s team is a bit thin.  That just happens to be a strength of the Spartans.  If Kansas escapes, it will likely propel the Jayhawks to great fortune.  If not, the Midwest Region really opens up.

Dark Horse:

#11 seed Rhode Island is the sleeper in this region.  The Rams closed strong, winning eight of nine; and have a win over Cincinnati under their belts early in the year.  Undoubtedly, URI starts with a difficult contest against #6 Creighton, and would likely have to take on #3 Oregon in the Round of 32.  With the way the Rams are playing, solid inside-outside balance, and up-and-coming Dan Hurley at the helm, Rhode Island has the look of a Cinderella.  I envision the Rams riding that late-season success into an Elite Eight appearance.

Who Wins the Midwest?

I have the Louisville Cardinals coming out of the Midwest.  As I mentioned in my preview of the Midwest, the Cardinals have their flaws.  Most of those flaws however are self-inflicted.  This is a team that can play multiple defenses, get out in transition, and pick teams apart.  Focusing on applying the death blow is what Louisville needs to add to the repertoire to advance deep into the tournament.  Rick Pitino will adjust the rotations, and as usual, have some tricks he kept hidden all season, which will put UofL on the right path toward the Final Four.

South Region

There’s always one region which seems to have a lion’s share of top programs, and could almost be considered a “Group of Death”.  The South is it this year.  Arguably the top three college basketball programs of all time – KentuckyNorth Carolina, and UCLA – all reside in the South.  What makes this region really fun though, is that in addition to all that tradition, some of the most dangerous double-digit seeds also found their way here.

Dangerous on Day 1:

This one is easy; the most dangerous high seed is #12 Middle Tennessee State.  The Blue Raiders pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history last year, knocking off #2 seed Michigan State.  Much of that squad is back for a second helping, and now they have 6-8 senior JaCorey Williams.  The Arkansas transfer leads MTSU in scoring at 17 points per game.  In the Round of 64, the Blue Raiders get Richard Pitino’s #5 Minnesota Golden Gophers.  The Gophers are back in the tournament field after having a miserable 2015-16 season, finishing 8-23.  Without a doubt, Pitino did a masterful job turning this team around, but the visit to the tournament may be short-lived.

Early Exit:

Once again John Calipari has an uber-talented group of freshmen, forecasted for greatness, which captured the SEC regular season and tournament titles.  Kentucky has won 10 games in a row, and may possibly be hitting their stride.  Like most of Calipari’s teams, in-game focus, and reliance on physical ability over substance, are the most glaring flaws.  On most nights, the Wildcats can overcome those.  Enter Wichita State as the foe in Round 2.  Greg Marshall’s team has reeled off 15 wins in a row, and has faced tournament teams, Louisville, Michigan State, and Oklahoma State this season.  The Shockers were also woefully under-seeded by the tournament committee.  That sounds familiar.  Like 2014 familiar when Wichita State was undefeated and a #1 seed, and had to face a Kentucky team that ended up with a peculiar #8 seed.  Turnabout is fair play.  Wichita gets revenge on Kentucky, and sends the Cats packing.

Pivotal Match-Up:

It has to be Kentucky vs. Wichita State.  If my forecast is correct, and the Shockers knock off the Wildcats, then things open up for UCLA.  Not that the Bruins can’t take down Kentucky, they’ve done so the last two years in row.  This year, Steve Alford’s team traveled to Rupp Arena and did it.  Despite my prediction, it will take everything Wichita has to defeat the Wildcats.  Many times, that type of effort leads to a let-down the following game.  If Kentucky gets through the Shockers, then Calipari’s team has vengeance on the mind, and a more talented opponent for the Bruins to have in their way.

Dark Horse:

The Cincinnati Bearcats haven’t been able to recapture the success experienced under Bob Huggins in the 1990’s.  Now relegated to the AAC after the Big East restructure several seasons ago, UC doesn’t garner a lot of respect.  Mick Cronin’s team could punch some teams square in the face and take back respect.  Cincy plays a physical brand of basketball, particularly on the defensive end.  That has been Cronin’s hallmark.  Senior point guard Troy Caupain runs this team with aplomb.  Juniors Gary Clark and North Carolina State transfer Kyle Washington provide a strong frontcourt, to go with the scoring punch of 6-6 sophomore Jacob Evans.  Assuming the Bearcats get by Kansas State in the opener, UC could present a tough match-up for UCLA in the Round of 32.

Who Wins the South?

Although I’m never sold on Steve Alford coached teams, I’ve got the UCLA Bruins getting out of the South, and giving the Final Four its second west coast rep.  There’s an awful lot of talent on board for the Bruins, particularly super freshman Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf.  Ball does just about everything, and Leaf leads the UCLA in scoring.       Blend that with veteran contributions from senior Isaac Hamilton and junior Thomas Welsh, and the Bruins have the arsenal available to make a run at the NCAA title.

THE FINAL FOUR:

The first semifinal pits a couple of Wildcats against each other.  Defending champion Villanova against traditional power Arizona.  Nova has all the moxie, veteran experience, and the championship in their hands until someone rips it away.  Josh Hart is one of the toughest players around, and always seems to make the necessary play to win.  I think the biggest difference will be up front.  Lauri Markkanen is getting better by leaps and bounds every game.  The size issue that Zona presents will be the difference as Arizona gets back to the NCAA title game for the first time since 2001.

On the other side of the bracket, Louisville and UCLA square off.  It’s been some time since the Cardinals and Bruins have played, so it’ll be nice to see these traditional powers, and rivals of the 70s and 80s get back together.  The Bruins can put up some serious points, and have an edge in overall depth of talent, but that gap isn’t as large as you’d think.  Getting out in transition is just what Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel want to do for the Cardinals, and if UofL doesn’t have to settle for jump shots, it’s for the best, as that runs hot and cold for the Cards.  The biggest difference here is coaching and experience.  Rick Pitino is a far superior strategist than Steve Alford.  The Cardinals also have several holdovers from the 2015 Elite Eight run, including Quentin Snider and Mangok Mathiang.  After having to miss out on the Big Dance last year, the Cardinals are hungry for more, and get through to the Championship game.

THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP:

Arizona Wildcats.  Louisville Cardinals.  This is a National Championship game that I crave.  Sean Miller’s star continues to rise, as he brings Arizona back to the prominence.  Rick Pitino continues his master craftsmanship of molding elite basketball teams.  Alonzo Trier and Donovan Mitchell will be the showstoppers.  Much of the talent position by position will be crossed out.  Louisville has the big men to throw different looks at Lauri Markkanen, and limit the freshman’s impact on the game.  The X-factor will be junior point guard Quentin Snider.  Q can very quietly step up in the biggest moments, and his control of the game, and perhaps a big shot or two, will decide this one.  Rick Pitino gets his third, and the Louisville Cardinals grab their fourth National Championship.

E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

LaVar Ball Lives Through his Protege Son Lonzo Ball

UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball has helped lead the Bruins back to the top of college basketball. The Bruins are a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and that is in large part to Ball having averaged 14.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. The youngster from Anaheim, CA has been so impressive during his debut season that he is already considered to be the 2nd best prospect leading up to the NBA draft.

Considering all the success that Ball has had and is expected to have in the future, it’s easy to see why his parents would be exceptionally proud of their oldest son. But even so, his father, LaVar Ball, may be going overboard. Scratch that. LaVar Ball is going overboard in his adulation for his son.

LaVar’s over-the-top, braggadocios praise of his son started earlier this season. The elder Ball offered this comparison of his son to the NBA’s reigning back-to-back MVP winner, Steph Curry:

“I have the utmost confidence in what my boy is doing. He’s better than Steph Curry to me. Put Steph Curry on UCLA’s team right now and put my boy on Golden State and watch what happens.”

LaVar considers Lonzo to be better than Curry right now. Not in the future. Right now.

Since LaVar believes that UCLA is being led by a freshman who is better than Curry now, it is easy to understand LaVar’s NCAA Tournament guarantee. UCLA will win the National Championship. It’s as if it’s a stone cold Vegas lock from Brent Musberger himself.

Want more? Oh, there’s more.

LaVar, the Fountain of Spout himself, has told the world that Lonzo will find the NBA game to be even easier than the college game.

“It is going to get easier for Lonzo as we go,” LaVar said. “When he gets to the pro’s, the game is even faster and that’s when he’s at his best. You trade in Bryce [Alford] for D-Wade, [Isaac] Hamilton for [Andre] Iguodala, get away from TJ Leaf and give him Anthony Davis.”

Look at that. He even managed to throw Lonzo’s current teammates under the bus. But remember, Lonzo is so phenomenal that he will elevate UCLA to a guaranteed national championship. His teammates must feel like the luckiest supporting cast on the face of the Earth. I guess Lonzo is Vincent Chase while the rest of the team are a bunch of Johnny Dramas.

LaVar is already branding his son. There’s family friend Darren Moore who is paid to essentially babysit Lonzo. There’s the hand selected paparazzi that snaps pictures and takes video of Ball and his boys for a potential reality show. And there is also Alan Foster who is already working on a basketball shoe for Lonzo.

Speaking of that signature basketball shoe, LaVar has already set the asking price of Lonzo’s shoe deal at $1 billion. But based on LaVar’s rhetoric, I’m not sure who this budding shoe deal is really for. LaVar or Lonzo?

“A billion dollars, it has to be there,” Ball told USATODAY. “That’s our number, a billion, straight out of the gate. And you don’t even have to give it to me all up front. Give us $100 mil over 10 years.”

If you thought dance moms were bad, LaVar tops them all. Before he was married, he set out to have his own set of “Ball boys.” You see? LaVar’s goal in life seems to have always been to live vicariously through his sons.

LaVar did play college basketball. He played for Kelvin Sampson at Washington State. LaVar claims that Michael Jordon wouldn’t have stood a chance against him in a game of 1-on-1. Never mind that LaVar averaged all of 2.2 points per game for the Cougars.

LaVar and Lonzo are going down the same road that Marv Marinovich took his son, Todd. Todd was a hotshot quarterback recruit from San Leandro, CA and he chose to stay close to home and play for USC. Like Lonzo, Marinovich had been groomed by his father to be a star athlete since before he was born. Marinovich’s life didn’t turn out the way his father had planned.

Being a proud parent is only natural. Being an overbearing parent who lives through their child can ultimately lead to a detrimental upbringing and even worse adulthood.

LaVar was never going to beat Jordan. As for Lonzo being better than Steph Curry right now? LaVar needs to give his son support while allowing him the space needed to mature on his own. That is all any child needs. And if that leads to a National Championship for the Bruins and multiple NBA MVP awards for Lonzo? So be it.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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China is a Bad Match for the Pac-12

The recent business pulled from North Carolina due to a transgender law on the books brought up a question about the Pac-12. If the social justice warriors are so upset about the law in North Carolina, what about the Pac-12 doing business with China?

People get behind things that fit their own personal narrative about what is right and wrong. However, when it comes to China people see business and money, not social justice.

If you follow world politics, you know that China is one of the biggest human rights violators. China is a communist country for those of you that conveniently forget that. They also provide a ton of business for the United States. Thus, the crux of the question with China.

The Pac-12 is no different from any other entity, it is looking to expand its brand in this new global economy. While I am all for the Pac-12 expanding its brand and making money,  doing it in China is a bad idea.

I have many questions about this expansion of brand.

What is the end game of these dealings in China? How much is the league spending on this Asian adventure? Do the human rights violations mean anything to anybody?

It is something that does confuse me.

Larry Scott calls this branding expansion a Global Initiative.

“It’s about international brand building, engagement and relationship development. Asia is globally significant to us,” Scott said.

Last year, when the Washington Huskies and the Texas Longhorns had a basketball game in China, the importance of China was clearly shown by university presidents.

David Pershing, the University of Utah President went with the Pac-12 contingent to China for that basketball game. His team wasn’t even involved in the game.

Why would Pershing come along? University presidents see a population that could possibly attend and spend money at their school. Once again, the bottom line is what they see.  They don’t see what the Chinese government does to its citizens.

I understand the attraction of China. It’s a market with a billion people, but it is a market that is suppressed by the government.

Doing business in China means doing business with the Chinese government. The same government that squashed a pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989. People stood in front of tanks, sacrificed their lives, and the lives of their families by taking a stand against their government.

One of the things that the Pac-12 prides itself on is being transparent in its business dealings. Well, excuse me if I don’t buy the transparency part when you crawl into bed with the Chinese.

The conference spent approximately $726,000 on these Global Initiatives in China. Shouldn’t this amount of money be put towards fighting human rights violations in China?

If you want a true Global Initiative, that would be a good one to start for the Pac-12.

I think the conference presidents would benefit more from that with their students, instead of spending that money on athletics.

The Pac-12 Conference should be about what is good for the whole, not just itself. By telling China thanks, but no thanks, you tell other businesses that human rights are more important. Money takes a back seat to what benefits society.

While we throw our monetary condemnation on North Carolina for having a ridiculous law, we need to have the same reaction when we go over to China to do business. If Chinese officials want the business of the Pac-12, they need to show that they are serious about being fair to their own citizens.

However, that won’t happen. Money is what college athletics is about and that will not change anytime soon.

The Chinese will continue to do what they do and the Pac-12 will continue to turn a blind eye to human rights in China.

 

E-mail Mike Wilson at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

Image: Creative Commons

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Building The Dam: Oregon State Women’s Basketball

When you build something with your own hands you take a lot of pride in it. Once the construction is finished you look at what you have built to make sure it’s exactly what you want and exactly how you want it. In Corvallis, Oregon, there is something being built that people are finally starting to take notice of on a national level. It’s the women’s basketball program at Oregon State University.

For the longest time, even when I was a young guy going to school there, the women’s program was something that most fans didn’t take notice of. There was not much to notice, to be fair to the people who have gone to school there. Fast forward to 2010 when Oregon State took a chance on a coach from a small Division III school outside of Portland, Oregon.

Scott Rueck, the head coach of Oregon State, came from George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon and knew what it would take to revive the program. He had experienced a great deal of success at George Fox in taking that program to the Final Four in Division III, but he knew that doing same thing at the Division One level would take a ton of effort on his part and the staff he had assembled in Corvallis.

When Coach Rueck came to Oregon State the program was in shambles, attendance was near nothing, the Beavers had not been to the NCAA Tournament in centuries, and there was no excitement surrounding the program. How was he going to resurrect this program? In one word, family.

When building any type of athletic program, whether it’s football, basketball, or gymnastics you have to have a sense of belonging for the athletes. If the players don’t have that sense of togetherness you will have a team that underachieves most of the time. Rueck knew this from his days at George Fox and his nearly 20 years of coaching. He was determined to instill that feeling of “family” at Oregon State.

Coach Rueck likes to share his success with his family. His wife and kids are a constant for him whether it’s at games or simply on the practice floor, and it appears that his players have bought into that feeling since he arrived on campus. It’s tough being a big time Division One coach because with all the time you spend getting your program to a place where people start taking notice you spend much of your time away from the people you care about the most. It can be a tough thing, but Rueck has made it work beautifully.

When he started to construct his program he had to hold open tryouts just to fill the roster out. I have not heard of anything close to that in major Division One college sports at all. From that first season in 2010, during which the current Senior class went through a 10-game losing streak and finished a dismal 10-21, Rueck has guided his team to its first Final Four appearance in school history. For a bit of perspective, the Lady Beavers had not been past the second round of the Tournament ever, so the accomplishment of knocking off number one seed Baylor will be something that the Beavers will cherish for a long time.

However, Coach Rueck, his staff and players know that the work is not done.

“I think this team is really confident. This is a team that is prepared.” Said Coach Rueck before they took on the Baylor Bears.

When Coach Rueck was asked about his team’s chances going into the NCAA Tournament he simply replied with a huge vote of confidence about his team.

“This team has played against everybody and played well against everybody, and they’ve played storied programs in storied venues, and they haven’t even blinked. It’s been part of the learning process. So I believe that this team absolutely has what it takes.” Coach Rueck said.

Coach Rueck believes in his players and the players believe in themselves.

Sydney Wiese, the Beavers’ 5’10” guard, who has been their go to player almost from the day she arrived on campus, shares in her coach’s confidence.

“This is the reason I came to Oregon State. I wanted to take down the big programs and do something special.” Wiese said recently during the Tournament.

The sense of togetherness with this group of players is one of the reasons that the Beavers have been so successful so quickly under Coach Rueck. Sometimes a program just needs to hit rock bottom and then get a little bit of luck with selecting the right coach at the right time to realize what is possible for it. The Beavers are realizing their dreams right now and with the success that they have shown this year and even the past couple of seasons, the run of wins, Tournament bids, and conference titles may not be over.

The Beavers have risen up all season to meet their own high expectations. They have won the Pac-12 Conference, they won the conference tournament, are a number two seed, and are one of the four remaining teams in the Tournament. What’s next?

They have a date with the UConn Huskies and maybe, just maybe, a date with destiny. Go Beavs!

 

Image: google

Alford Takes Blame for Bruins’ Lackluster Season

It’s not very often that the head coach of a college basketball program returns contract money to the university, but that is exactly what UCLA men’s basketball coach Steve Alford did after a disappointing 15-17 season. In an open letter written by Alford dedicated to fans of the UCLA program, he announced his intentions by stating, “At the end of the day, year three was clearly not up to UCLA standards. My coaching staff and I fell short not only of our own expectations, but the expectations of athletic director Dan Guerrero, the Chancellor and you, our fans…As a coaching staff, we intend to earn that extension back.” Alford’s announcement was made shortly after multiple banners were seen flying through campus calling for Alford’s removal from the program.

It was not all bad for the a Bruins team that defeated then first ranked Kentucky on December 3rd, and earned an impressive road victory at Gonzaga December 12th. Despite gaining momentum during the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Bruins were a disappointing 6-12 in Pac-12 play. Junior and Los Angeles native Isaac Hamilton led the Bruins in scoring on the year, contributing nearly 17 points per game. UCLA also received key contributions from Sophomore big man Thomas Welsh, and the son of head coach Steve Alford, Bryce Alford who will also be returning for his final go-around as a Bruin next season.

Conference play proved to be too daunting of a task for this years’ UCLA team, as the Bruins were only able to pick up one win against a ranked Pac-12 team. The lone victory came against then-seventh ranked Arizona 87-84 on January 7th. However, inconsistency was a major theme for UCLA this season, as bad losses against Washington State and Stanford combined with a much improved Pac-12 spelled doom for the year’s version of the UCLA Bruins.

Despite the lackluster regular season, the Bruins, like all Division I programs, had the chance to make a run in their conference tournament and steal and a bid to the NCAA tournament. This dream came to a crashing halt, as the Bruins received a thrashing at the hands of bitter crosstown rival USC 95-71 in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament. With their final loss of the season, the Bruins finished a disappointing 0-3 against their hated rival for the first time since 1954.

Alford and his coaching staff originally received a contract extension through the 2020-2021 season after taking the school to the Sweet Sixteen a year ago for the first time since 2008. However, help should be on the way for the Bruins as five star recruits Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf are both committed to UCLA as well as four of the top five scorers on the team have at least one year of eligibility left.

Despite this year’s struggles, the Bruins still remain one of the most appealing destinations for a potential recruit. Not only are the Bruins able to sell the beautiful city of Los Angeles, but they are also able to harp on their rich history which includes eleven national championships. While it is extremely refreshing to see a coach take direct responsibility for the lack of his team’s success, the Bruins should be back in the NCAA Tournament field in no time.

Email Alec at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @alec_kwait.

Photo: SD Dirk/Flickr.

Pac-12 Embarrassment at the NCAA Tournament

Being a fan and writer of the Pac-12 Conference I want the conference to do well when the chips are on the line for its teams, but after viewing the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament I had to come to conclusion that the Pac-12 just was not very good in 2016. Was the Pac-12 overrated by the tournament committee? I think so. Were they over seeded? Most definitely.

Watching plenty of Pac-12 basketball this year I saw that the conference was very average, but not horrible in any respect. I thought we would get about five or six teams into the Big Dance, but I thought any more than that would be over stretching the talent level in the conference. Now, I am not saying that the talent level was absolutely lacking, but lets face facts here, the college game has become diluted due to the “one and done” player.

Watching the Pac-12 perform over the weekend I thought,  “Am I being punked here?” It didn’t appear to be the same conference I had seen during the regular season and they paid a heavy price in this year’s Tournament.

The NCAA Tournament has not been kind to Pac-12 in the past and once again it wasn’t in 2016. The last team standing are the Oregon Ducks, the number one seed in the West region, and almost the first number one seed to bow out. The Ducks got all they wanted from a determined Saint Joseph team on Sunday night and now have a date with the Duke Blue Devils.

Just about every time March Madness rolls around the Pac-12 sends a couple of legit prospects to the dance and just about every time thereafter the conference is let down by those prospects. The expectations are not even met, forget about the teams even coming close to exceeding them.

What really cemented the Pac-12 as being largely overrated for this tournament was on Saturday night when three seed Utah, was crushed by 11 seed Gonzaga. Saying the Utes were crushed is putting it politely. It also may have proved the point about how some of these Pac-12 teams may have been overvalued by the committee. The final score of the Utah/Gonzaga game 82-59. Really? The seeding for that game should have been flip flopped. The Utes played like they were the 11 seed and Gonzaga played like they were the tougher three seed.

Say what you want about Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few, but he gets his teams ready to play regardless of their seeding and it showed against Utah.

The conference got seven teams into the Tournament and most of those teams were bounced in the first round. Oregon State, Arizona, California, USC and Colorado were all put to rest on Thursday and Friday. Only Oregon and Utah were left standing at that point.

Oregon is left holding up the conference flag at this point and to say that they are a difficult number one seed to bounce out may be a bit of a lie at this point. After their performance against Saint Joseph, picking Duke to win against Oregon is not a big stretch to take. I do think that match-ups matter for teams as well, so for the teams that were bounced early let’s take a look at their individual games.

Oregon State: The Beavers were a pretty good story for the conference. It was the first time they had been invited to the Tournament in 26 years and had played some decent basketball, but a seven seed? Really? They were matched up against a Virginia Commonwealth team that had been to the tournament before, had some success, but were regulated to a 10 seed. Oregon State was certainly over seeded, no doubt about it.

Arizona: Being a six seed for the Wildcats was something that wasn’t really looked at as a bad thing by their fans. I did not hear many complaints coming from Tucson about it, but their downfall was playing a Wichita State team that wasn’t playing like an 11 seed. They were playing more like a five or six seed. The Cats were not even favored in that game.

Utah: For a team that I thought had the potential of getting to the Final Four, they really screwed the pooch against Gonzaga and this was only a couple of games removed from getting waxed by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game.

California: The Golden Bears were dealt a major blow by having their point guard, Ty Wallace, suffer a broken hand a day before their first round game. He was their Senior leader, he filled up the stat sheet for them, and then in a blink of an eye he was gone. That’s the reason, not an excuse for them because they still had enough talent to win that game.

USC: They were in a tough match up with Providence and then lose at the buzzer. It was the 8 seed versus the 9 seed and those games are a toss-up as it is, but in this game Providence was the better team. USC underperformed in my opinion all year with the good talent that they have on that squad.

Colorado: Sometimes the better team just underperforms. It was a pick’em type of game with Connecticut and the Buffs just didn’t play to their capabilities. When you don’t come to play, negative things happen and they did for Colorado.

In the end, the Pac-12 needs to have better showings in the Tournament than they have been giving us. The committee will remember this next year and may not give the Pac-12 the benefit of the doubt. Even though they are supposed to evaluate a team on their merits for that year I am almost certain that they will remember putting seven teams into the Tournament and remembering that six were out by the end of the first weekend of play. That will play a part in their thinking next year.

Imagine if Oregon had lost to Saint Joesph. What would people be thinking of the Pac-12 then? Let that thought swish around in your head for a bit.

Email Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

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NCAA Tournament Preview: West Region

It is that time again. People filling out brackets at the office, getting into betting pools based on 18- and 19-year-old young men, people trying to pick the right upsets, and maybe even picking that “Cinderella story”. I know it’s a shameless “Caddyshack” reference, but it certainly applies when people get into a bracket for the tournament.

Getting past all the brackets being filled out, let’s take a look at the West Region, which is led by the Oregon Ducks as the region’s number one seed.

Overview

The big teams on this side of the bracket are Oregon, Oklahoma, Duke, and Texas A&M, but as a region the West is relatively weak compared to the other sides of the bracket. When I look at the top four teams in this region, I don’t look at one team and think “Oh, they win this region with ease.” Let’s look at the teams that have a pretty good shot at coming out of the West.

Oregon is playing as well as anybody in the country right now. People might be looking at the Ducks and underestimating them a little bit. Don’t sleep on the Quack Attack. They have athletes and play well together as a team.

Oklahoma can win this region as well. They get to play their game(s) in Oklahoma City and are considered one of the top two seeds in the whole tournament. They also have one of the best players in the country in Buddy Hield who can simply take over a game and win that game.

Defending National Champion Duke, which is arguably having a down year, could win this region behind its best player, Grayson Allen. You just have to watch your feet around Grayson. Grayson can flat out score the basketball and if he gets going it can have positive consequences for the Blue Devils.

Celtic great, Bill Russell, has always said basketball is about “getting buckets”. Texas A&M gets buckets in bunches and is scoring an average of 10 points per game more than its opponent. When the Aggies get on a run, it can result in an avalanche of points that their opponents can’t recover from. If teams have to match the scoring of Texas A&M they will be in for a long night and that is why the Aggies can win the West Region.

Players to Watch

Dillon Brooks (Oregon): This kid can play some basketball. Having watched him live, he is a match up problem for most teams. He can post up down low, bang with the big guys, score, or he can take his game to the perimeter and knock down shots. He’s the hybrid type of player that is a nightmare for opposing coaches to game plan for. He’s the leader for Oregon and he could make his national coming out party in the Tournament.

Grayson Allen (Duke): Grayson is another in the long line of hated Duke Blue Devils who can shoot the ball. This player is as tough as they come and can score from the mid-range area, can take it to the rim, and hit the three-point shot with relative ease. If he has another moment like he did in last year’s title game, the Blue Devils could make another special run this year.

Buddy Hield (Oklahoma): This young man was one of the best stories in college basketball this season. The young Bahamian averaged 25 points per game and can also hit the three point shot at a fantastic rate as well. The other thing that comes with a season like he had is that he just might win National Player of the Year. The aspect that I like about him is his personality. He smiles for the cameras, he’s engaging, and looks like he’s actually enjoying himself out on the court. Watch Hield and you could be watching something special happen.

Gary Payton II (Oregon State): This is one of those stories that people who follow Oregon State would only know about. Last time the Beavers were in the NCAA Tournament, Gary Payton Sr. was leading the Beavers to the tournament. It’s a circle of life thing for the Beaver fans. The son, is making his mark this year in the Pac-12 and is in the running for the Player of the Year award for the conference. He plays both ends of the court and to say his relative calm demeanor takes away from his game would be a gross mischaracterization. Watch this kid play. You won’t be disappointed.

Final Thought

At the end of the day, I think the West is about as wide open as it could possibly be. Oregon earned its number one seed by winning the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles but you can’t take anything away from Duke, Oklahoma, or even Texas A&M. As a person who has followed college basketball his entire life, I know the NCAA Tournament is full of surprises and I am sure this year will be no different. Let the games begin.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

Photo: google

The Man in the Middle for the Utah Utes: Jakob Poeltl

Jakob Poeltl. Jakob who? If you haven’t heard of this young man that is a shame, but it is certainly understandable as well. This young sophomore center for the Utah Utes is one of those players that just goes about his business on the basketball court, doesn’t make a fuss about it, and can flat out dominate a game. He is up for Pac-12 Player of the Year and should certainly be in the conversation for All-American status in 2016. Poeltl is a player that people should start focusing on as the Pac-12 Tournament gets going this week and then the NCAA Tournament gets rolling.

The anchor down low for the Utah Utes is a player that people will notice because of his size, but not necessarily notice the stats he puts up. Why is that? For one, Poeltl is a very quiet, unassuming type of kid. He’s not really out there pounding his chest saying “Look at me!” He lets his statistics just speak for themselves and they have spoken loud and clear this season for the Utes. He nearly averaging a double-double this season while creating defensive nightmares for opposing teams in the Pac-12.

Currently, Jakob Poeltl is averaging 17.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, and 1.9 apg. His field goal percentage is off the charts as well at 66 percent, but it also helps that he is seven feet tall to help maintain that high percentage. He averages nearly two blocks a game and that helps to create that presence in the middle for Utah. If one of their guards gets beat on the perimeter, Poeltl is there for help and to send a shot back if necessary.

Jakob Poeltl is a slight seven-footer. He’s not tipping the scales at 275-plus, he’s only weighing in at 235 pounds, so he’s a guy that can be pushed around by bigger, stronger guys in the low post. Obviously, getting bigger in size and weight is going to be something as he progresses through his college years and into the NBA. This is the one area in his game that he needs to pay attention to because coaches want their big men around the basket and not settling for their outside game. Coaches want a low post presence when they have a seven-footer.

Can he add the weight? Let’s hope so. Otherwise people may start to look at him as one of those typical European players who is strictly an “outside” big man and not somebody that can pound the inside on the offensive end.

Jakob Poeltl excels on the defensive end of the court. His coaches love the fact that he doesn’t allow other big men to get set up deep on their offensive end. He doesn’t allow that deep seal set up and has learned how to push the opposing big man off his desired spot on the block. Just ask Arizona center, Kaleb Tarczewski about how effective Poeltl was against him. Tarczewski was bottled up against Poeltl when the two Pac-12 giants played each other.

What are his chances at ending up in the NBA? According to some NBA scouts, he should be a Top 10 NBA Draft pick in 2016, if he comes out early. Some mock drafts have him in the top five, some have him the top 10. It depends on which mock drafts you look at. Scouts love the defensive presence that he has already. They love that he has a high ceiling, and that he can still get much better on the offensive side of the ball. He will certainly be an intriguing player to watch in the NBA Draft Lottery.

First thing is first though. He has to complete his sophomore season at Utah and try to get his Utes to win the Pac-12 Tournament, then get his team to make a run deep into the NCAA Tournament. The more success the Utah Utes have, the more name recognition Jakob Poeltl will have amongst basketball fans. I, for one, am already sold on this young man from Austria, but now it’s time for the rest of the country to be sold on Jakob Poeltl.

Pac-12 Basketball: Who Gets into the Big Dance?

Basketball is played out here in the West, many people may forget about that. That is understandable since teams out here in the Pac-12, outside of the Arizona Wildcats or the UCLA Bruins don’t have any name brand recognition when it comes to basketball. It’s a tough road for the Pac-12 in basketball. Their games come on late in the east, the teams are not winning titles, and most people who follow college basketball don’t regard the conference as one high in talent. The urge to watch Pac-12 basketball is not there. That is especially the case in 2015-2016 with the Pac-12. However, the talk that I hear is that seven or eight teams may make the NCAA Tournament. Really? Does the Pac-12 really have that many teams that are “Big Dance” worthy? Let’s explore.

When you talk Pac-12 basketball, there is always ONE team that comes to mind. The Arizona Wildcats are the brand of the Pac-12. No question to me. Ever since Lute Olson took over the program and now with Sean Miller, the Wildcats have had the most talent, been ranked high, and gone deep into the tournament

Do they deserve a bid this year? Absolutely, without question. Even though they lost a ton of talent from last year’s squad, they are still at the top of the Pac-12 Conference. However, they have struggled this year to really separate themselves from the rest of the conference because of the lack of “lights out talent” they have enjoyed in past years. The Cats will get in, they have quality wins, they have an excellent shot at winning the conference tournament, and depending on match-ups in the Big Dance, they could create some anxious moments for teams the deeper they go in the tournament.

The Oregon Ducks. Well, people like seeing them because of what? The uniforms. Having seen this team in person, I heard many a fan say “I wonder what the uniforms will look like tonight?” and to that I merely laughed. Until Oregon goes deep in the tournament multiple times, that is what the fans will be asking.

Do they get into the tournament? No doubt about it. They have the record to get in. The Ducks are 22-6, 11-4 in the Pac-12 right now and have some people thinking they are dark horse to get to the Final Four. I am not sure I would go that far with Oregon, but they have athletes. They’ve got a solid point guard, in sophomore Casey Benson, good big men in Dwayne Benjamin and Dillon Brooks, and a quality Head Coach in Dana Altman. The one thing the Ducks lack is a prototypical big man. Their post players are slight in stature and will be pushed around by a big man of size when the tournament starts. The Ducks get into the tournament with no problem, but how far they go is anybody’s guess.

The Utah Utes will get into the tournament as well. They are in second place in the Pac-12 and have a huge game with Arizona coming up to determine the final standings in the conference. The Utes have a 22-7 overall record and 11-5 conference record, so they will get a bid. The Utes are solid team, with solid players, but I am not sure if they will strike fear in too many teams when the conference tournament or the NCAA tournament starts. At most, I see Utah getting to the round of 16 in the Big Dance. To go any further they need good match-ups and/or some upsets to occur. Bottom line, they will need some help to advance deep in the NCAA tournament.

Here come the Trojans. The Trojans have some great bigs who are athletic. They have four guys over 6’10” who are long, athletic, and can play ball. To me the Trojans are on the “bubble” to get into the NCAA Tournament. They have an overall record of 19-9, but have a conference record of 8-7. When you are barely above the break-even mark in college basketball in your own conference the trip to the tourney is riddled with doubt. The Trojans have a must-win game against California that they have to get. For the Trojans to get this much-needed win they need to execute their offense on a high level. Head Coach Andy Enfield has shown concern for this execution at different points in the year.

“Our effort level is good but our execution is not good sometimes. We have never had to coach effort with this team, but execution wins games,” said Head Coach Andy Enfield.

The road to the Pac-12 Tournament is not easy either. The Trojans finish up with the Oregon schools, both of whom have beaten them already this season. Oregon State can certainly compete with USC and play a major spoiler role for them. The Ducks are currently leading the conference and will be looking to carry momentum into postseason play.

The California Golden Bears are wanting to make the Big Dance as well and in my opinion they should make it. With an overall record of 20-8 and a conference record 10-5 the Golden Bears will be looking to solidify their position by beating USC on Sunday. One of things that California certainly has going for itself is that it has beaten all of the Pac-12 teams currently ranked, Arizona, Oregon, and Utah. Those are three impressive wins for the tournament committee to look at. They are also one more weekend sweep away from finishing in the Top 25, which would be a great step forward for a program that has not finished in the Top 25 in quite a long time. Should the Golden Bears get into the tourney? I believe so. They have the wins, the record, and the steady play to garner an invite.

Last, but certainly not least, there are the Colorado Buffaloes. I also believe they get in, but in my opinion they just might be one of the most overlooked teams in the country. Why? With a Pac-12 Conference being a bit down this year, that doesn’t help, but being in Colorado doesn’t help either. With an overall record of 20-9, a conference record of 9-7, and some quality wins against Arizona, California, Stanford, and Oregon the Buffaloes should have enough to get into the tournament, maybe a 10-12 seed. Senior Josh Scott will do everything in his power to maintain the steadiness that he has given them all season. He is the Buffs leading scorer and rebounder for the second time during his tenure at Colorado. His leadership has helped the Buffs develop as a team and he tries to lead by being a vocal example.

“One thing for me this year is that if you have the experience, you have to share those experiences. I’ve tried to be vocal about everything,” Josh Scott said.

With a game against Arizona State on Sunday, the Buffaloes should lock up their third NCAA invite in four seasons. They do have a remaining game against rival Utah that will be a highly entertaining game. If they get that win, they should have no doubt about getting into the Big Dance.

All in all, the teams that have been mentioned should be in, with USC being the only one that may be on the bubble. Since the Pac-12 is down this year, I don’t see any of these teams making a deep run into the NCAA Tournament. Some people think the conference gets as many as eight teams into the tournament. I say no way. After Arizona, California, Colorado, all of them need better players, recruiting, and wins against other big Power 5 teams to garner that type of consideration. I am Pac-12 fan and want to see the conference succeed on a national level, but I am also a realist. If the conference doesn’t have it with its talent level, then we don’t have it. Doesn’t mean we won’t get it, but it just means players and coaches will have to work harder to get that success for the Pac-12.