MWC: We’re Not Leaving Until Someone Gets Jimmered
By now we should all be used to the notion of the Mountain West Conference being treated as a big time league in the big time college sports. BYU, TCU and Utah have all made major strides into the college football elite at various points during the past decade. As a result, all three have also made major conference re-alignment moves in the last year or so (Utah to the Pac 12, TCU to the Big East and BYU to independent football status and the WAC in other sports). In basketball BYU, Utah and UNLV have certainly had some great teams and NCAA tournament runs (including a national title for UNLV in 1990) while SDSU and New Mexico have come on strong at points during the past five years. All these teams have also been known to pull off some upsets as lower seeds, and have even thrust some players into national POY conversations (you all know Jimmer, but anyone remember Andrew Bogut?). Still, I doubt if there’s been a year quite like this one in the MWC in some time. Both SDSU and BYU were in strong contention for NCAA number 1 seeds throughout the season before receiving a 2 seed and 3 seed respectively. In addition, UNLV made it in as the conference’s third team while New Mexico was the only team in conference to beat BYU before SDSU pulled it off in the conference championship. As the conference heads towards serious realignment you have to wonder if these teams jumped on the exodus bandwagon too quickly. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. Here are some “facts” about the conference:
- It’s interesting how many redemption stories there are in the MWC. UNLV has come full circle from suspected wrong doing during its run to the 1990 national championship and 1991 Final Four that led to the dismissal of head coach Jerry Tarkanian. They’ve now made the NCAAs four of the last five years and come into the tournament on an 11-4 run. They managed out of conference wins over Kansas State and Wisconsin and get Illinois in the first round. I’m going with the rebels.
- Another redemption story comes in the form of SDSU coach Steve Fisher. Fisher is best known as the coach of the Michigan Fab 5, one of the most famous or infamous college basketball teams in history depending on who you ask (and the subject of a great new 30 for 30 documentary). He led that amazing group of Michigan freshman (and then sophomores) to two NCAA finals appearances but was eventually fired in 1997 for his involvement in a far reaching scandal having to do with Michigan boosters and numerous NCAA violations. Since taking over the Aztecs in 1999 he’s led the team to four NCAA appearances, four MWC tournament championships and a number 2 seed in this season’s West Region. A strong defensive team with a pro prospect in Kawhi Leonard, they could do to UConn and Kemba Walker in the Sweet 16 what they did to Jimmer Fridette and BYU in the MWC Championship.
- You know what the most insane thing about Jimmer Fredette is? It’s not that he was only recruited by 12 colleges coming out of high school. It’s not an insane competitiveness that family members claim has been a trait of his since he could walk (and which is evidenced by his averages of 33 mpg, 31.1 mpg, 35.3 mpg the last three seasons). It’s not the scoring averages of his last three seasons (16.2, 22.1 and 28.5) or his respective field goal shooting percentages in those seasons (48%, 45.8%, 45.6%). It’s not even that he’s helped lead BYU to two 30 win seasons in a row and 4 NCAA tournament appearances. No, it’s that Jimmer Fredette is a 6’2” guard who seems to score from just about any point on the floor and in any style. He can pull up, slash to the hoop, fade away from the rim and catch and shoot the 3 (he averages 40% from faraway land). He’s put them over the top. My only concern with the Jimmers? The fact that he scored 30 points in the MWC championship and they still lost by 18…
SEC: Alabama Went 12-4 In Conference And Didn’t Make the Tourney?! That’s Almost Crazy As a Father Pimping His QB Son For…Oh, Wait…
For years the SEC basketball landscape amounted to Kentucky and a bunch of football schools. Then in the 1991 Arkansas joined the conference and made two Final Fours, two Finals appearances and won a national championship in 1994. When Kentucky swooned throughout part of the 2000s LSU made a Final Four, Tennessee had a resurgence under Bruce Pearl and Florida won back to back national championships in 2006 and 2007. Unfortunately for the SEC, the depth didn’t last very long. Instead of joining the ACC and Big East as a consistently deep league the conference saw Florida lose a ton of NBA talent, while Arkansas and LSU fell completely out of the NCAA picture. Tennessee (on a 4-7 run coming into the NCAAs) has remained strong but is facing serious NCAA recruiting sanctions and may very well lose the coach that has built it up from scratch. The only good news outside of a consistently good-but-not great Vanderbilt team for this conference is that Kentucky has been resurgent under John Calipari and Billy Donovan has gotten the pieces back together at Florida. The league luckily roped in five bids in a down year nationally but the only serious contenders for anything outside of the first weekend are Kentucky (who struggled mightily to win away from home) and Florida. To top it all off, no one outside of the state of Kentucky (or the locker rooms of these teams) may actually give a crap. Here are some facts about the conference:
- Florida, save for a couple of losses to the Wildcats closed well down the stretch. With a bevy of good Billy Donovan recruited talent, this was supposed to be the norm for the Gators even after their back-to-back feat of four years ago. Instead, they’ve struggled to get back to the top of a weak SEC. The Gators have a two seed but it should be noted that this team swooned in losses to UCF and Jacksonville in December while they were steam rolled by Ohio State in November. They got solid wins against FSU and Kansas State but whiffed late against Kentucky twice. Honestly I don’t know how they got seeded so high in the Southeast region, but it’s probably the weakest of the four and favors them geographically. If you’re looking for a two seed to go pretty deep this may be the one.
- Save for losses to UNC and UConn the Wildcats cruised through their out of conference schedule only to get whacked away from home throughout much of SEC play. Still, they enter on a six game winning streak, and there’s always enough talent with John Calipari for a team to make a run. The concern here is the bracket they landed in, a relative who’s who of past blue bloods (no pun intended) in UNC and Villanova and current juggernauts in OSU, Syracuse and even Xavier. With likely match ups against West Virginia in round two and Ohio State in the Sweet 16, the best team in the SEC may be hard pressed to repeat its 2010 Elite Eight run.
- Vanderbilt’s consistently ranked in the top 25 but rarely does well in the NCAAs (they’re the Duke of the deep south in every respect but the NCAA wins).
- Georgia had a great run of four wins in four days to the SEC Championship a few years ago and was one of the teams that benefited from a weak national year. Other than that, Ugga’s a football dog.
- The Bruce Pearl era may be coming to an end in Knoxville pretty soon. You may see his boys play hard for him against Michigan, but Duke’s way to strong in the second round for this fragmented team to make it any farther.
Pac-10: We’re Not Just UCLA You Know…
We do know west coasters. In what was supposed to be another two bid year forthis conference they actually managed to sneak in three and a half teams. Why the half? Because USC’s horrendous 46 point performance against VCU shouldn’t count because it’s a Fringe Four game, and really shouldn’t count because of the manner in which it went down. Still, strong bids from Washington (always a sneaky Sweet 16 caliber team), UCLA (if you don’t know…yeesh) and the University of Derrick Williams (fine, Arizona) have this conference well positioned to make a little noise prior to their big 2011-2012 additions. Unfortunately those additions (Colorado and Utah) have been mostly dud worthy in basketball (and football if we’re talking Colorado) as of late. Still, maybe that East coast Pac-12 exposure they voraciously sought back in 2010 is starting to pay off for the Left Coast league. Here are some facts about the conference:
- If you don’t already know about Derrick Williams (and people have been forgiven for worse) then please go on Youtube, type his name in and enjoy. He’s an athletic freak that was putting up highlight reel slams in 2010 but was mostly overlooked because Arizona missed the tournament for the first time in about an eternity. Arizona should get Texas in the second round. If the Longhorns play to their depth and experience then Williams will put on a show in the first weekend and then go declare for the NBA draft (if there is one). If UT misses their free throws, allows their stars (Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton) to brick a ton of shots and falters on defense (where they’re usually solid year in and year out) then Williams can make a run at Duke on a big Sweet 16 stage.
- UCLA obviously has history on its side when it comes to the big dance, and Ben Howland’s teams did make three straight Final Fours recently with the likes of Kevin Love and Russel Westbrook on the roster. This isn’t one of those UCLA teams certainly, but it should also be noted how deceiving their 22-10 record is. They lost three close out of conference games to true NCAA teams (after VCU’s evisceration of USC last night) in November and December and beat BYU. They also went 13-5 in Pac-10 play and beat St. Johns in February when St. Johns was starting to look like a serious Big East contender. They’re 3-3 in their last six but I certainly expect to see them in the second round.
- Washington was an interesting team from start to finish all year. They disappointed somewhat in out of conference play by missing on a lot of big opportunities before struggling in a conference they were supposed to win going away. They finished third in the regular season before making a run in the conference tournament that ended with a buzzer-beating win over Arizona. They got a nice draw in the first round with Georgia but the East bracket is just too tough for this team to make much noise beyond that.
That’s all for now folks, tune in next time for: “Adrian Peterson is to Cultural Dialogue what Cappie Pondexter is to Empathy,” “Is it Possible for TCU to win Less Than 0 Games in the Big East in 2012?,” “Three Years at Michigan and Jalen Rose Still Didn’t Learn Anything,” and “John Wooden, may we always try to live by his amazing example.”