Tag Archives: SEC Basketball

Auburn, Adidas and the FBI

It is a sad and sobering day. I have always been one who wants to believe that when someone talks to you they will tell you the truth, do the right thing, be honest and forthcoming. I still want to be able to do this, badly, but my innocence (or naiveté), has, once again, taken a major hit.

I am growing weary.

As I was sifting through different topics and stories on the morning of the day this column was written, the Adidas/Bribery/FBI scandal story broke. And there sits Auburn, right smack dab in the middle of it.


And this is, most assuredly, the tip of the iceberg. Oklahoma State, Southern Cal, and Arizona also had assistant coaches charged. The Auburn assistant coach involved is Tiger legend, Chuck Person.

It’s the same old story, umpteenth verse. Greed, corruption, arrogance, and pride. This reads like a tragedy of Greek proportions.

When will we ever learn? Can we not take the failures and flaws of such stories, past and present, apply them to our lives, and do better? Apparently not. From time immemorial, this has been the case. We haven’t learned a confounded thing, it seems.

From Cain and Abel to Jacob and Esau to Samson to King David, and right on through the crucifixion of Jesus, the Bible tells tale after tale of man’s tragic fall again and again and again.

Yes, from day one the selfish desires of hugely flawed humanity have been paraded before us in every conceivable manner, from pulp fiction to the holy writ.

“It’s the same old story, umpteenth verse. Greed, corruption, arrogance, pride. This reads like a tragedy of Greek proportions.”

“How long, oh Lord?” (Psalm 13), and also a favorite quote of the late, great Hunter S. Thompson. My answer? Today? For as long as there are homo sapiens roaming the highways and byways of good old planet earth.

We tend to fail. We tend to fail miserably. And we are usually undone by the works of our own hands. We are, all too often, more than willing accomplices. Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. The seven deadly sins, all on full display day after day, week after week, and year after year, illuminated in the news and gossip rags for all the world to see.

But what about redemption? Yes, that is the theme in many of these same biblical teachings, and it is, sometimes, the case in current tales of the fallen.

People screw up, and, unfortunately, often willingly. But people also redeem themselves. We can be a forgiving people, amazingly so, sometimes it seems. We just want those fallen, those guilty, those transgressors to come clean. We want them to be honest and straightforward. We want to forgive.

We also want our sports to be a place for escape, for joy, a place in which we can immerse ourselves and forget the travails that so closely surround and pound us on a daily basis. And yet, again, that place is tainted by the sights and sounds of another tale of the fallen, the lost, the prodigal.

There will be karma, people will reap what they sow. There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There will be long-lasting repercussions. Penalties will be meted out.

Yet in this modern morality tale, which is now unfolding in front of us, there is bound to come redemption. Where? Who? How? Why? When?

Corruption and redemption. The first part of that coupled pair is now playing out in front of us. I find myself already longing for the second part. Redemption.

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E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Cuonzo Martin’s Missouri Basketball Team Gives Tiger Fans Reason To Be Excited

They say that the Earth was created in six days. Not too shabby. Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin may have that beat if we’re to believe both the experts and Missouri fans.

When Jim Sterk hired Martin to rebuild the Missouri basketball program, I’m not sure even Sterk envisioned Martin’s masterpiece being created in such short time. Martin hired Michael Porter Sr. to sit along side him on the bench and the rest was a domino effect. Porter Sr.’s blue chip recruit son, Michael Porter Jr., pledged his commitment to the Tigers, highly regarded point guard recruit Blake Harris jumped onboard Martin’s party bus, Jeremiah Tilmon was wooed away from Illinois, and, finally, Porter Jr.’s brother Jontay reclassified for the 2017 season and joined his father and oldest brother.

[Merenbloom: What Mizzou Assistant Michael Porter Sr. is All About – Family Values and Humility]
[Merenbloom: Missouri’s Jim Sterk Got His Man]

Martin inherited a team that went 8-24 in 2016. With only two players taller than 6’8”, the roster Kim Anderson left for Martin was short on height and talent. And now the 2017-18 team has multiple blue chip recruits to go along with six players who are taller than 6’8”. On paper, this is the most formidable roster Missouri has had since the late 1980s. Emphasis being placed upon ON PAPER.

Missouri went from SEC doormat to being considered contenders to win the conference. Not only that, but Missouri is one of the preseason favorites to win the national championship. Everyone needs to pump the brakes on Martin’s party bus.

Let’s at least see this team play before anointing them as a dream team. Martin’s team will certainly be talented, but it’s going to be a talented and young team. No matter how talented youth is, it’s still youth. A learning curve should be anticipated as these kids transition from high school and AAU ball to major college play.

The Tigers start the season at home against Iowa State. While the Cyclones aren’t considered to be an elite team this year, they should still be considered to be a tough test for a team as young as Missouri is. We’ll learn a lot about Martin’s team in this game but we shouldn’t base the entire season on this one game.

I expect this team to be good, but I also expect this team to have growing pains. Being able to score shouldn’t be a problem for this team. It’s on the defensive side of the court that I anticipate this team showing the most growth as the season progresses. Defense has a lot to do with being disciplined and knowing your opponent. Players coming right out of high school are used to being the biggest players on the court. This also means that these players are used to physically dominating their opponents. That won’t be the case most nights in the SEC.

Missouri fans should be excited about this team but the fans should also expect to see some frustrating moments. When those moments happen, just remember how the last three seasons went. It may take a few months for this team to mature and hit its stride, but once it does, it could really make some noise in the NCAA tournament. Be excited, but a trip to the Final Four shouldn’t be considered a foregone conclusion. But it sure is nice to be a Missouri basketball fan with legitimate anticipation and hope for an upcoming season. It’s been too long.

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

College Basketball Needs the Loathing and Hate of the Missouri versus Kansas Rivalry

Old rivalries die hard. Old rivalries are so ingrained into the fabric of some teams’ psyches that even if two teams no longer play each other, the rivalry continues. Old, dormant rivalries die hard.

This case of old, dormant, raging rivalries is what rears its head each March between fans from Missouri and Kansas.

From the perspective of the Missouri fan, Kansas is being petty for no longer playing the Tigers. More specifically, Bill Self is being petty for objecting to continue the rivalry on the court.

Kansas and Self contend that Missouri ended the rivalry when it accepted the invitation to join the SEC. Missouri left Kansas behind and Self has no intention of letting the programs cuddle. But Self’s Jayhawks continue to be cozy with other former Big 12 members, Nebraska and Colorado.

Kansas fans object to playing Missouri again based on the scorned lover mentality along with the “what’s in it for me” mentality. I mean, seriously, if you’re Kansas, what is in it for you? Missouri just finished up its worse three year period in the history of the program. Why should Kansas feel obligated to schedule another patsy on it schedule?

Now, from the perspective of Missouri, leaving the Big 12 was never anything personal against Kansas. It was just business as they say. The Big 12 was on shaky ground and Missouri jumped at the opportunity to be in a stable conference. Just as Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M did.

But none of this killed the rivalry. Far from it. All of this has only enflamed the rivalry.

As Missouri once again sat home in March, the program and fans were the recipients of some overwhelming superb news. Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 rated recruit in the class of 2017, de-committed from Washington and pledged to play for Cuonzo Martin and the Tigers. Porter Jr. is going home.

[Merenbloom: What Mizzou Assistant Coach Michael Porter Sr. Is All About – Family Values and Humility]

With heads held high and chests puffed out, Missouri fans took to social media to rub Kansas’ nose in it. Look, I get it. Missouri fans haven’t had much to cheer about the last three years and the absence of elite level talent had a lot to do with the misfortune of Kim Anderson’s three year record. Tiger fans have a right to be giddy, to be proud, and to feel like kings and queens of the basketball world. But Tiger Nation needs to slow its roll and put Porter Jr. in perspective before throwing his commitment in the faces of Kansas fans. Kansas gets a lot of players that are similar to Porter Jr. I mean, A LOT of players that are elite.

As Tiger fans were lighting their morning-after cigarettes and basking in the afterglow of signing Porter Jr., Kansas was playing Oregon in the Elite 8. In what amounted to a home game for Kansas, Oregon strolled into the Sprint Center and smacked Kansas in the mouth for 40 minutes. There was no group of fans happier to see this than the Missouri fans sitting at home. I’ll admit it. I was one of those Tiger fans feeling pretty good as I sat on the couch next to my Jayhawk rooting wife. Yea, yea, yea. Dogs and cats living together and all that.

I adore my Tigers. And because of that, I could never root for Kansas. But here’s the thing. As I get older and as I blog from my basement, I have gained perspective. It’s not quite unbiased perspective, but it’s perspective none-the-less.

As Dana Altman and Oregon ride into the Final Four, Missouri fans can’t help but point and laugh at Self. He choked again they all say. Self’s record in the Elite 8 at Kansas is 2-5. He can’t win when it matters most Tiger fans say.

Now for perspective.

Self has been to two Final Fours with Kansas. Self has won a championship with Kansas. What Missouri fan wouldn’t be ecstatic if all of that was on the resume of Missouri basketball?

Old school Missouri fans hold Norm Stewart in god like status. Stewart won 634 games as the coach of his alma mater. But guess what? Stewart never reached the national championship game. Stewart never reached the Final Four. And Stewart, in his 32 years as the Missouri coach, reached the Elite 8 once.

So if you’re a Missouri fan who is claiming that Self under achieves and is a choke artist just spare me. I don’t want to hear it from you. Because, as Missouri fans, you should all know better. A coach isn’t completely defined in March. At least not Stewart.

But after saying all of that, I’ll say this; I get it.

I get it because Missouri versus Kansas is still a rivalry. And it may be one of, if not the best, rivalries in all of college basketball. I mean the teams no longer play each other and the fans are still as passionate as ever with each other.

As for Missouri, Kansas, and Self? You’ll all play each other again. Missouri will find its way back to the tournament and when it does, the tournament committee will place the teams in the same bracket. The tournament is a made for television event and Missouri playing Kansas will be must-see TV. And when this happens, it will be wonderful. The level of loathing and hate will make everything right again in the world of college basketball.


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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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What Mizzou Assistant Coach Michael Porter Sr. is All About – Family Values and Humility

At this point, we’re all aware of LaVar Ball. He makes outlandish guarantees (how’d that 2017 UCLA national championship work out, buddy?) to go along with outlandish demands. Among his demands is the asking price for the shoe deal he believes his sons deserve. Or is it the asking price he believes he deserves?

[Merenbloom: LaVar Ball Lives Through His Protege Son Lonzo Ball]

Ball does have a small group of supporters. The narrative goes something like this – LaVar is a proud dad who wants nothing but the best for his sons. What dad wouldn’t and shouldn’t act like LaVar as a child’s dreams are being supported?

It’s now time for a comparison of fathers. Let’s discuss Missouri assistant coach Michael Porter Sr. and his son Michael Porter Jr.

Porter Jr. is the No. 1 ranked recruit in the 2017 class. He had originally committed to play for Lorenzo Romar and the Washington Huskies. And then Romar was fired. Porter Jr. reopened his recruitment and he’s now headed to Missouri.

And for this, Porter Sr. is considered to be worse than Ball. How did we get to this point? Glad you asked.

Porter Sr. is married to Lisa Becker. That is important because that makes Robin Pingeton Porter Sr.’s sister-in-law. Pingeton is the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Missouri.

Pingeton had hired Porter Sr. to be one of her Director of Basketball Operations and eventually promoted him to assistant coach. He had played college ball, toured with Athletes In Action, and coached at the AAU level. So this wasn’t like hiring some guy off the street. And, sure, it helped that Pingeton is Porter Sr.’s sister-in-law. But none-the-less, Porter Sr. was qualified to be an assistant.

Porter Sr. spent six seasons at Missouri before accepting a job with Romar at Washington. Make no mistake, Romar’s hiring of Porter Sr. was about much more than Porter Jr.

Romar and Porter Sr. go a long way back. Romar was a player-coach on the Athletes In Action team that Porter Sr. had played on in the early 1990s. Porter Sr. credits Romar for turning his life around. In short, Romar was the mentor who influenced Porter Sr. to grow up and become an adult.

“I mean, I was at a crossroads, and they took me in and let me live with them,” Porter said. “I saw a stable family. I saw a man who was committed to his family, and those were just examples that I needed to see up close and personal at that point in my life.”

Asked to expand upon that crossroads, Porter replied: “Just the kind of guy I was. Lorenzo was one of the first guys to tell me the truth about myself. ‘Porter, man, you’ve always got an excuse for why you don’t do what you’re supposed to do. You’ve always got an excuse for why you’re late.’ Stuff like that.

Family. Responsibility. Accountability. Those are the things that Porter Sr. learned to value and to embrace while living with the Romar’s.
During his time spent with Romar, Porter Sr. expressed a desire to be a coach. Romar told him to go out and gain some experience and he would consider hiring Porter Sr. after he had built a coaching resume. True to form, Porter Sr. acted on Romar’s advice. And true to form, when the opportunity presented itself and the timing was right for all parties, Romar offered Porter Sr. a job as one of his assistants and Porter Sr. accepted the offer.
Porter Sr. just as easily could have transitioned from Pingeton’s bench to Kim Anderson’s bench. It’s all based on rumors and speculation, but Anderson either declined to offer Porter Sr. an opportunity to coach on the men’s side or Porter Sr. wanted nothing to do with coaching for Anderson. Either way, Porter Sr. had his opportunity and off to Washington he went.
Porter Sr. has two daughters who play for their aunt at Missouri; Bri and Cierra. The family also had spent six years in Columbia. With the family roots that had been established, Columbia was home. So when Porter Jr. committed to Missouri by saying, “I’m coming home,” he was being sincere. Not only was he being sincere, the entire family was being sincere.
Yes, it’s true, Porter Jr. wouldn’t be headed to Missouri if his father wouldn’t have been hired by Cuonzo Martin. But let’s be honest. Recruiting is like sales. It’s about relationships and who you know. That doesn’t mean rules were broken or that Porter Sr. is “getting rich” off of his son. Porter Sr. is chasing his dream just as Porter Jr. and the rest of the Porters are chasing their dreams. It’s important to draw the distinction that each member of this family have their own dreams that are independent of each other.
Ball has groomed his kids to be basketball players since before they were born. He’s not only supported them but he’s branded his kids along with the entire family. That branding, which he intends to turn into $1 billion, is on the backs of his children. Ball’s intent is to become a billionaire off of his kid’s talent.
Now compare Ball’s comments to Porter Sr’s comments.

“I tell my kids all the time, I couldn’t care less if they played basketball, and I mean that from my heart,” Michael Sr. said. “I love that they play, because Lisa and I played and we love this game, but we are way more concerned about the people they become than being great basketball players.

“We talk a lot about, in your own mind, understanding there’s a distinction. Basketball’s what you do. It’s not who you are. Who you are is a human being. Love people, and treat them incredibly well. Those are the things that we value.”

Ball values $1 billion shoe deals. Ball has always defined his children by what they do; playing basketball. The Porters, on the other hand, have taught their children that there’s a distinction between what they do and who they are. Family values don’t come with a balance sheet or profit margin. At least not for the Porters.

I would also argue that the family values that the Porters have instilled in their children include humility.

Porter Sr. played college basketball but wasn’t a superstar. He went on to play for Athletes In Action and then called it a career as far as playing was concerned. He never created his own myth. He never claimed to be able to beat Michael Jordan one-one-on. Instead of inflating his own ego, Porter Sr. accepted his reality and set out to figure out his place in the world.

He wanted to coach so he volunteered with Romar back in the early 1990s and eventually earned spots coaching on the AAU circuit as well as Pingeton’s coaching staff. Porter Sr. even spent time as a Christian hip-hop artist touring under the name, Rahlo. Humility. Porter Sr. has always accepted the reality of his situation and made the most of it.

When critics of Porter Sr. claim he’s worse than Ball and that Porter Sr. is the father who is truly getting rich off of his superstar child, I can’t help but jump to his defense. It’s difficult to believe that Porter Sr. is living vicariously through his kids after examining his life. Porter Sr. has never been a person who chased the spotlight. He’s a person who has chased happiness through strong family values and humility.

No. Porter Sr. is nothing like Ball.

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Missouri’s Jim Sterk Got His Man

It didn’t take long for Jim Sterk to hire Cuonzo Martin as Missouri’s new head basketball coach. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Martin leading the Tigers. He has won at each program he’s been the head coach at and he recruits top tier talent. His ability to recruit both assistant coaches and players should have Missouri fans excited for the near future in particular. But all of that could, and will, be an article for another day.

The person who I want to focus on today is Jim Sterk.

Jim Sterk proved himself to be the anti-Mike Alden in the way he went about hiring Martin. Sterk was focused and efficient.

Based on both substantiated and unsubstantiated rumors, Sterk identified Tom Crean and Cuonzo Martin as his top two choices to replace Kim Anderson. There may or may not have been mutual interest between Sterk  and Crean. The two parties may have even talked. You know the saying; his people talked to their people. But for whatever reasons, Sterk and Crean went their separate ways.

At this point, the entire coaching search could have gone off the tracks. If you don’t remember the events that led up to Alden hiring Frank Haith and Kim Anderson, allow me to take you down memory lane.

When Mike Anderson left Missouri for his dream job at Arkansas, Alden went all-in on hiring Purdue coach Matt Painter. Painter seemed to be genuinely interested in accepting the Missouri job. And then, what seemed to be at the last minute, Painter elected to stay at Purdue. Alden was caught off guard and had to move along to Plan B. But did he really have a Plan B? That seemed to be the nagging question about his leadership at Missouri.

In this case, Plan B turned out to be Frank Haith. Haith was at Miami and found himself caught in the middle of the NCAA’s investigation into Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. To make matters worse, Haith had claimed to have had no involvement with Shapiro. I guess “no involvement” with Shapiro still allowed time for Haith and Shapiro to exchange 85 calls or texts with each other.

Even with the use of search firms and extensive background checks, Haith and his lack of honesty turned out to be Plan B for Alden.

And what about the search that Alden led to replace Haith? That may have resulted in one of the worst Power 5 conference hires of all-time.

Alden set his singular focus on Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. We can’t blame Alden for aiming high. But he had to close the deal and he just couldn’t do it. Whether Marshall couldn’t be had or Alden couldn’t present an enticing enough offer is irrelevant. What is relevant is where Alden went after being turned down by Marshall. Where Alden went was a long, lonely, cold, and dark road.

Waiting at the end of that road was Kim Anderson.

Anderson is, and always will be,  a True Son and had an enormous amount of success as the head coach at the University of Central Missouri. But Missouri is not a Division-2 job. Anderson was Alden’s Plan B after striking out on Marshall. There’s a enough distance between Marshall and Anderson to span the globe a few times.

Alden couldn’t go from Painter to Haith. But he did. And Alden absolutely couldn’t go from Marshall to Anderson. But, again, he did.

Missouri’s history with Alden is why Missouri fans should be ecstatic with the job that Sterk did in hiring Martin. Sterk was focused, efficient, and organized. If Crean was his top choice, Sterk didn’t allow Crean’s answer of “no” to throw him off course. Sterk remained focused, had a Plan B in mind who was strong enough that he could have easily been viewed as the top choice all along. And who knows, Martin may have been the bullseye on Sterk’s search. Sterk was that good at running this search.

You know what they say. Coffee is for closers. Sterk must start his days with a full pot.

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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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 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.


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.

There May or May Not be Mutual Interest Between Tom Crean and Missouri

Hopes, dreams, rumors and FlightAware. Those are things that the minds of Missouri basketball fans are absorbing. Athletics director Jim Sterk made it official last week when he made the announcement that Kim Anderson will no longer be the coach of the basketball team. Did he resign? Was he fired? Does it matter? What does matter is that Missouri is moving on from former athletics director Mike Alden’s failed experiment of hiring a coach who was in over his head from day one.

Relieving Anderson of his position was the easy part. Now comes the hard part for Sterk. Hiring the coach who will likely establish his legacy at Missouri.

[Merenbloom: Jim Sterk’s Missouri Tiger Legacy will Ride on Kim Anderson’s Replacement]

The Missouri fans have their early frontrunner based on hopes, dreams, rumors, and a touch of FlightAware. That frontrunner is current Indiana Hoosier coach Tom Crean.

If you don’t consider the guys at the Mizzodcast to be credible sources, how about Dave Matter? Matter writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and confirmed, via sources, that there is mutual interest between Crean and Missouri.

Crean seems to be the hot name attached to the Missouri job at the moment, so let’s dig into what the possibility of his leaving Indiana for Missouri would mean for the Tiger program.

The Good

He wins. And wins are what Missouri basketball is in desperate need of. Crean has won two Big Ten championships at Indiana to go along with three Sweet Sixteen appearances. His detractors from Missouri will tell you that his first three seasons at Indiana resembled Kim Anderson’s three seasons at Missouri. On the surface those people would be correct, but there is more to the story.

Crean inherited a program that had been placed on three years of NCAA probation. Kim Anderson was dealt the same situation when he arrived at Missouri, but, unlike the former Tiger coach, Crean’s Hoosiers showed glimmers of hope as they went 28-66 in the first three years with Crean.

In his second season at Indiana, the Hoosiers beat a Pittsburgh team that would finish the season with a record of 25-9. And in his third season, Crean’s Hoosiers beat a Michigan team that would finish the season 21-14 along with victories over ranked Illinois and Minnesota teams. So don’t be fooled by Crean’s rough first three seasons at Indiana. His teams at least showed glimmers of hope and that is a testament to his ability to coach.

It was in his fourth season that those glimmers of hope turned into consistent results. Crean’s 2011-12 team went 27-9, finished 5th in the Big Ten and made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. The reason for his success in his fourth season is the foundation for supporting Missouri’s interest in hiring Crean.

As his early Indiana teams were struggling to win, Crean was still able to sell his program to recruits. Players such as Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Jordan Hulls had no reason to commit to a program that won 28 games in a three-year period. But they did thanks to Crean’s ability to recruit. And, coincidently, Zeller’s uncle is Missouri basketball legend Al Eberhard and Zeller still turned down a winning Missouri program in favor of Crean’s sales pitch.

The Bad

Crean slowly developed a reputation for having issues with player control. His roster at Indiana has had problems with both drugs and alcohol. If that wasn’t enough, his handling of those incidents was considered to be lenient. Those events compounded upon themselves to the point that some believe that there was and possibly still is a disconnect between Crean and his players.

He has also shown behavior that is indicative of being a hot-head. In 2013, Indiana beat Michigan 72-71. While edging out that close win, Crean got into an argument with Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer. Meyer had been on Kelvin Sampson’s Indiana coaching staff. Crean yelled at Meyer, “You know what you did. You helped wreck our program.” Crean did learn from this incident as he had a different reaction when recently confronted by a Maryland fan.

Of all of the criticism that can be placed on Crean, the idea that he throws his players under the bus is possibly the most damning. When any coach does this, it gives the impression that the coach isn’t willing to take responsibility for the sub-par product that he is presenting to the fans. Whether or not it is a fair criticism of a coach is irrelevant. It’s a criticism that is there and it is one that Crean will likely need to address in any interview setting.

The Bottom Line

Crean has had his ups and downs at Indiana. This is true of just about every coach. Indiana fans and the local Indiana media seem to have grown tired of Crean’s style. Every coach has a shelf life and Crean may be at the end of his at Indiana.

I believe that Missouri basketball would be rejuvenated with the potential hiring of Crean. Truth be told, Missouri basketball would be rejuvenated with just about any coach that is hired to replace Anderson. But Crean may be different.

Crean has experience taking on a program that is down on its luck and turning it back into a winner. Whether or not Crean’s teams treated the Indiana fans to enough wins is up for debate, but Missouri fans would be ecstatic with the kind of success that Crean has had at Indiana.

Is Crean available? Only he knows at this point. Would he have any interest in the Missouri job? He says “no” but what is he supposed to say at this point?

I, for one, would be excited to see Crean coaching at Missouri. As a Missouri fan, I’ve witnessed worse.

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

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Jim Sterk’s Missouri Tiger Legacy will Ride on Kim Anderson’s Replacement

Kim Anderson is by all accounts a great guy. Unfortunately for both him and Missouri basketball, being a great guy doesn’t guarantee professional success. And a record of complete and total ineptitude is what Anderson and his coaching staff brought to Missouri.

I’m not going to pile additional negative criticism upon this all-around great guy. If you want to read my message of fire and brimstone in regards to Anderson, you can find those articles archived on Campus Pressbox.

[Merenbloom – Missouri Tiger Basketball: Kim Anderson Proves You Can’t Always Go Home]
[Merenbloom – An Athletic Director is a Gambler and Missouri AD Mack Rhoades is Rolling the Dice with Kim Anderson]

Jim Sterk hasn’t fired Anderson, yet. But most Missouri fans consider it only a matter of time. Sterk may consider it a matter of time as well considering the statement he made about the security of Anderson’s job status. Sterk isn’t upset with the state of the Missouri basketball. He’s disappointed.

The Missouri fan base and Sterk may see the glass of disappointment as half-empty, but not Anderson. No, Anderson sees it more as a glass of opportunity that is half-full. Anderson believes that his team “competed” in the non-conference.

“I know people probably don’t want to hear this, but, as you look back at the nonconference, certainly we didn’t accomplish what we would have liked to,” Anderson said. “But I think you could realistically say it wasn’t like we got blown out by 35 points every single game. I think we competed.”

Anderson is correct when saying his team never got blown out by 35 points. But Missouri also lost to North Carolina Central, Eastern Illinois and Lipsomb. All three of those so-called buy-games were home games for Missouri. Those are games that an SEC team wins. Those aren’t games that an SEC team merely competes in. Missouri has become the buy-game for other teams and that’s disappointing.

Writers at other websites won’t venture to guess who athletic director Jim Sterk will attempt to eventually replace Anderson with due to not knowing the budget for the job opening. I, on the other hand, won’t be scared away from suggesting four coaches who I believe would be worth considering.

In all honesty, I hesitate to throw this first name out there, but it has to be done. That’s right. I’m talking about Gregg Marshall. Yes, Missouri did (or didn’t) attempt to wine and dine the Wizard of Wichita State once before, but you know what they say – timing is everything. He’s still a coach worth calling. At least it’s worth calling his agent to gauge his interest. Wichita State pays him just over $3 million.

While that is a dump truck load of money, it shouldn’t scare Sterk away. Sure, when Frank Haith left Missouri, Mike Alden may have been reluctant to pay a basketball coach more than football coach Gary Pinkel. Pinkel achieved enough success at Missouri that some want a statue built for him. But now Barry Odom roams the Missouri sideline and it should be easy to pay a basketball coach more than a first-year head coach who just went 4-8.

This next coach could be a more realistic option and would offer a potential juicy side story. How about University of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar? I wouldn’t hate seeing Romar in black and gold. Romar established himself as an ace recruiter in Seattle. The coach has a track record of recruiting coast-to-coast and that includes securing a commitment from Columbia, Missouri native Michael Porter Jr.

Recruiting has never been Romar’s issue. Winning in the NCAA tournament is what’s been the thorn in Romar’s side. And that is what has him on the hot-seat. I believe Romar could make sense at Missouri because he would bring talent to Columbia. Talent is something that Missouri basketball has desperately lacked under Anderson. Once he enticed talented players to wear the Tiger uniform, there is no doubt in my mind that he would win in the SEC. Oh yeah. As for that potential juicy side story? If Romar is the coach to replace Anderson, the telling sign could be whether or not Porter Jr. signs his letter of intent at Washington.

My preference for Missouri basketball would be to lure a current, successful Division-I head coach to Columbia. But sometimes our lives don’t turn out the way we hoped for and we don’t get what we want (see the Kim Anderson hire). There has to be a backup plan that would still leave Missouri fans feeling comfortable. My preferred backup plan includes a less heralded head coach and an assistant coach.

How would Missouri fans feel about Chris Collins leading the charge at Mizzou Arena? For starters, get over the fact that he played at Duke. Not every former Duke assistant is going to sleep with a player’s girlfriend (allegedly) or snort cocaine in the Capital Grille bathroom (allegedly). Collins has been the head coach at Northwestern since 2013 and he’s turned that program into a winner. His Wildcat team won 20 games during the 2015-16 season. That was good enough for 9th place in the Big Ten. But come on. It’s the Big Ten, and unlike the SEC, there is quality basketball being played there.

Do you know who Ron Sanchez is? Probably not. Truth be told, I didn’t know who Ron Sanchez was prior to working on this article. But I’m now a fan of Ron Sanchez. Sanchez is currently an assistant coach at the University of Virginia. Prior to his job with the Cavaliers, he was one of Tony Bennett’s assistants while at Washington State. Here’s what I like about Sanchez. He has been a successful contributor to programs that don’t rely on blue-chip recruits. Sanchez is schooled in implementing a system and recruiting players who will fit into that system. For a school like Missouri that doesn’t have a track record of attracting high-profile recruits, a coach like Sanchez could do well in Columbia.

This isn’t a complete list of coaches who I would be happy seeing at Missouri, but these are four coaches who would give me the hope that Anderson has stripped out of the program. Other coaches who I would like to see considered are Mark Montgomery, Steve Masiello, and Jeff Boals.

There is one coach who would be a big, bold hire for Missouri. As I stated with Marshall, timing is everything and this candidate being a viable candidate would require perfect timing. The coach I am talking about is Fred Hoiberg. He was a terrific coach during his tenure at his alma mater, Iowa State. Hoiberg is in his second season with the Chicago Bulls and his seat grows hotter by the day in the Windy City. When talking with my friends who are Missouri basketball fans, I’ve professed my love for Hoiberg. He would be my top choice if available. Hoiberg’s availability would hinge on when the Bulls decide to cut The Mayor loose. If he is fired mid-season, Sterk needs to put the full-court press on hiring him.

Sterk has a monumental task in front of him. Missouri fans love having a winning football team but I believe what most Tiger fans desire is a winning basketball team. While the legacies of most Power 5 athletic directors ride on their head football coaching hires, Sterk’s legacy may ride on this basketball hire. No pressure, Jim. Just don’t screw it up.

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

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Simmons’ Showtime Doc Shows Some Folks Don’t Do College

Ben Simmons is still pretty steamed at the NCAA, even though he’s had about four months to get over it.

The former LSU player and current rookie with the Philadelphia 76ers saw his documentary “One and Done,” premiere on Showtime. And, apparently, he decided to chuck his spring semester classes because he already had a goal in mind of getting to the NBA. All the while, Simmons threw shade at the NBA’s rule that dictated players entering the draft be a year removed from high school in order to be eligible.

While the one-and-done rule was designed to provide potential NBA players with at least a year of college prior to jumping into the draft, it was rather clear that Simmons wanted nothing to do with this arrangement.

You could make the argument that considering his talent (he was the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft), he serves as the exception to the rule; a LeBron James, if you will, as opposed to a Kwame Brown.

At the same time, there have been at least a couple of ways in which Simmons could have side-stepped this rule and, in at least one scenario, he could have made a nice chunk of change.

On one hand, Simmons could have opted to spend a year at a prep school, as fellow 2016 lottery pick Thon Maker had. Or he could have followed in the footsteps of Brandon Jennings, who decided to play professionally in Europe before heading home to declare for the draft.

No matter how you shake it, though, it was pretty clear for everyone involved that Simmons wasn’t long for LSU by any stretch of the imagination. And the initial shock of head coach Johnny Jones announcing that the Tigers would play in no post-season tournaments after a 19-14 season wore off pretty quickly.

There’s no expectation that any other player will follow the same path that Simmons did on the way to the NBA. In fact, if any of them did, basketball programs would be losing their collective minds thinking about the potential APR ramifications. Can you imagine if Kentucky, who had its entire squad take part in pre-draft workouts (a completely legal thing now) had lost all of them.

Regardless of those theoretical situations, nobody is really sure what Simmons was hoping to accomplish with his documentary. If he was trying to point out the evils of the one-and-done system, he did a pretty poor job of it by phoning in an entire semester, while, at the same time, still able to play basketball and live on campus. And all of that, of course, was well within the rules.

And it didn’t really help matters that once the Tigers opted out of the post-season after they lost in the SEC Tournament, Simmons was running around the country getting workouts in prior to the draft. Keep in mind that all the while, he was still technically on scholarship until the end of the semester that he clearly didn’t show up for.

You can’t really blame him for any of this, though. In the end, everybody got what they wanted. LSU got itself the biggest hoops draw since Shaquille O’Neal. And Simmons got access to craft his game in preparation to make the big bucks in the pros.

Did it leave him with a little less money in his pocket? Sure. But if he had been able to jump from high school to the NBA, would he have been the top pick? Probably not, and there’s a decent bet he wouldn’t have been a top-three pick either. So, in the long run money-wise, it’s a zero-sum game.

If anything, though, the Simmons saga, culminating in this Showtime documentary, did prove that there are some people for whom college just isn’t a fit. For some, it’s because they have talent in which formal training isn’t needed. For others, they don’t possess the wherewithal to handle the rigors of advanced study. And in all cases, it usually takes about a semester or two for them to figure out on their own that they need to go in another direction.

For Simmons, it would appear that the former is true.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

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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.


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.

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