March 23, 2010

March Madness: "Chemical" Ali Farokhmanesh, the return of the white man (and not just at Duke!), Calipari, and Notre Dame's "big stage" problem

11) Harold "The Show" Arceneaux, Bryce Drew, and now "Chemical" Ali Farokhmanesh. A new March Madness legend has emerged. The Michael Jordan of Iran with a dad who may or may not be Borat. Love this guy's moxie. Pretty sure he will be rejecting my Facebook friend request any minute now.

Great stuff. Hands down the best moment of the basketball weekend. I think every sports bar/living room/Vegas sportsbook in America collectively erupted when that 3 pointer went down. I don't even remotely feel bad for Kansas either. They didn't even show up to play until there were five minutes to go in the game.

How long before that Northern Iowa coach is pacing the sidelines at Iowa next year?? Just make the announcement now like you see before the college football bowl games. What if that actually happened?? A coach gets some monster offer during the middle of the NCAAs and they tell him that he has to leave immediately to start recruiting and he bails. That would be like the biggest scandal of all time. I think Dickie V would commit a homicide he'd be so upset.

10) By the way, can we go back to calling Bill Self a tournament underachiever again?? It's like George Costanza after he got rid of his toupee. Great to have the old Bill Self back. It was weird with him winning titles and things like that.

This sort of reminds me of the Mickelson Winged Foot meltdown after he had already won a couple majors. Even though we had all come to acknowledge that Phil was indeed a great champion and capable of closing out majors, all those "Phil the Choker" memories came flooding back as soon as he pulled out the driver and sliced that drive on 18 out of bounds in the US Open. It was always there lurking under the surface.

Same with Self. He's a GREAT coach, of course, considering all of his success (yes, recruiting does matter and shouldn't be discounted when evaluating a coach. Pretty sure I'd rather have Bill Self than Bo "Bench Coach" Ryan who loses in the 2nd round every tournament), but it was strangely fitting to see him with the Bill Self face going down the stretch of that game. It felt like 2005 all over again.

Oh well. I doubt he's too worried about it. He's got a ring, and Kansas is still loaded.

9) Is this tournament the year of the white man?? Between all the Cornell guys, all the Duke guys, Andy Rautins, Chris Kramer, Gordon Hayward, Jon Diebler, Jon Leuer, Ali Farokhmanesh (sorry Iran, I'm counting him in this discussion), that Eglseder guy from Northern Iowa and his compadre with the mutton chop sideburns, this is the most prominent role the white man has played in an NCAA Tournament in a number of years. Even Tennessee is trotting out a few white dudes off the bench (albeit no headband I believe).

And these aren't just token guys. A lot of these guys can really play. Everywhere I look, there's a white guy driving to the bucket or knocking down a jumper this year. By Sunday evening, I was 90% sure that Chris Kramer was scoring on that drive to the bucket against Texas A&M. When did the white man become a go-to guy?? Is this a product of all the "one and dones"?

My all White Team of the teams remaining:

PG - Rautins
SG - Scheyer
F - Singler
F - Ryan Wittman
C - Eglseder

Bench: Hayward, Kramer, Diebler, Farokhmanesh

I mean, that's a heckuva squad! That's a top 20 team I would guess. Maybe better. The forwards/wings on that team would be as good as any in America.

Meanwhile, Kentucky, the school that once refused to recruit a black player, is now running an all-black team out there and might have to face two legitimate whitewashes (Cornell and Duke) if they want to advance to the NCAA title game. How about that for irony??

8) Most impressive team: Kentucky. Just put the banner up at Rupp right now. And then take it down in two years. They have the best personnel and a great coach. This is really not that complicated sometimes.

Then again, Dino Gaudio did not exactly have the greatest game plan against them. Let's see, you're playing Kentucky and all their athletes, and your strategy is to get into a track meet with them?? Huh?? Why would you play them like that??

Needless to say, we were scrambling to try to pick up the rights to "" on Saturday night. I have feeling that will be a hot website within the next two years.

7) Nice work by Washington. The Pac 10 quietly went 3-1 this weekend. Amazing how cyclical college hoops can be. I remember coming back from Vegas last year buzzing about the Pac 10 and ready to pick all of these Pac 10 teams to make noise (you know who you are, Arizona State!), and then watched them lay a collective egg in the tourney. This year, the Pac 10 was widely-regarded as a complete joke, and the league is now 3-1.

And I love Lorenzo Romar's "Here's Looking at You" impersonation of Bubbles from "The Wire." Now all we need is a McNulty look alike (Bruce Pearl?) and a Bunk look alike (Draymond Green?).

6) Big East -- Complete disaster. In fact, I think the Big East has done enough damage to make the committee leery of ever giving the league eight bids again. Georgetown and Nova were wildly overseeded, ND choked, and Louisville never even showed up. The whole claim to fame for the Big East is that the teams beat each other up in conference play, and now that argument looks like it has less credibility.

The Big East members might want to play tougher OOC schedules next year because I don't think going 10-8/9-9 is getting you in next year based on conference record alone. Yes, Mike Brey, you should be taking out your pen and paper right now and writing that mental note to yourself. I'm going to post that once a week until you get that message and give us a top 50 OOC schedule.

Then again, I can't really figure out what happened to the Big East this year. All of these teams are littered with McDonald's All-Americans, so it's not like they were complete frauds who overachieved all year and then flamed out in the tourney. Maybe it was just a fluke year.

5) Let me just throw out this Final Four possibility for Indianapolis in two weeks:

Ohio State

Are you kidding me?? That might be the hottest ticket of all time. Kentucky can fill the Lucas Oil Dome by itself with the way they travel, and then you throw in Ohio State with Evan Turner's star power three hours up the road on I-70, plus the New York Yankees of college basketball in Duke, and a massive Big East brand name with major media presence in the biggest city in America. You couldn't ask for a better Final Four in terms of ticket sales and tourism dollars.

I'm picturing 40,000 bullpen-jacket wearing, Tayshaun Prince-jersied UK fans invading Indy en masse and mingling with a bunch of chardonnay-drinking Duke fans. That would be the highest of high comedy. I really need to head over to Indy if that happens.

Plus, how great would a Duke-Kentucky Final Four be??? Not only is it always special to see those two teams on the floor together, would that be the first potential "white vs. black" matchup since the famous Kentucky-Texas Western game?? Would black America just start rioting on the spot if Duke won that game?? Not that white people are really rooting for Duke either.

4) The All-WEISND First and Second Round Team:

I didn't watch every single game or player, so I'm just going with the guys I actually watched. For example, I didn't see any of Duke or Baylor and very little of West Virginia, so I'm not putting any of them in this grouping.

Here would be my All Star team so far purely based on guys I've watched in the first two rounds of the tournament:

G - Jacob Pullen - Just played incredible in the BYU game. He didn't impress me that much in the Kansas game in the Big 12 final, but I now understand what the fuss is about. Every time KSU needed a bucket, he came up with it.
G - Jordan Crawford -- Cold-blooded assassin. Every time it got a little scary for Xavier, he buried a jumper. And when he has the ball in transition, it's a bucket.
SF - Wes Johnson -- Scoring machine. Completely dominated. He was probably always a lottery pick, but now there's no question he's going top 5. Not sure if he'll be a great pro, but his draft status is through the roof.
PF - Ryan Wittman -- Are you kidding me?? Shooting machine.
C - Omar Samhan - This dude is wacky, but he's great. Should be interesting to see him go up against Baylor's big guys.
6th man - Quincy Pondexter -- That drive against Marquette was one of the best executed "clear out for the best player for the last shot" sequences I've seen. That formation almost never works, but he executed it perfectly. Set his man up, beat him to the hole, and made a tough shot. Great work.

How about all these ex-Indiana players/recruits in this tournament by the way?? Bassett, Crawford, Ebanks, Ben Allen, Holloway. Even a guy like Wittman should have been on the IU radar considering his dad was a great one there.

That might be the most underrated story of this entire tournament. If Indiana had that roster (which is not even remotely far-fetched considering all of those guys either committed or played at IU), they'd be playing this week in the Sweet 16. Not even a doubt in fact.

3) Say what you want about John Calipari, but here's the question I would ask. If your school was looking for a coach, wouldn't you want them to hire Calipari?? Me too. I wouldn't even blink. If ND hired Cal and announced at the presser that they would stop at nothing (that means you, Worldwide Wes!) to win, that would be one of the happiest days of my life as an ND fan. It would be worth it to see the banner up at the JACC for two years before it came down. Just win, baby!

Then again, Swarbrick and the collars would crawl into the fetal position at the thought of Cal at Notre Dame.

If you hire Cal, it's a sign that you want to win. Big boy college basketball. Nobody does it better in the game today. Maybe it's shady, but if Cal didn't sign John Wall, someone else would. Kentucky needed a coach who would get their swagger back, and that's exactly what Calipari has given them. I'm not even sure they remember the Billy Gillespie era at this point. Even if he leaves that program in shambles someday, it's still worth it to go along for the ride. Ultimately, the only thing that matters are the memories. The banners are just laundry.

2) Power Poll:

1) Kentucky - You never know when you have so many freshmen, but they have the best horses in this race. Just so much talent, and their freshmen don't really look like freshmen.

2) Syracuse -- They got their mojo back. I'll never doubt a Jim Boeheim-coached team. Definitely the backup frontrunner at this point.

3) Kansas State -- Sure, they are coached by a prison guard, but these guys are legit. I've now watched them back to back weekends, and really like how they play. They remind me a lot of Bob Huggins' early 90s Cincy teams only they are a little more skilled. Pullen and Clemente are the best backcourt in this thing, and they bring waves of 6'8" athletics wings and bigs at you. Very legit threat to win the whole thing.

4) West Virginia - I love Bob Huggins and think he's maybe the most underrated college basketball coach of the last 25 years, but I just can't get over the hump and embrace them as a title contender. Of the 4-5 truly great teams that Huggins has had in his UC and WVU career (the 92 Final Four team, the 93 Elite 8 team, the 96 Elite 8 team, the 2000 Kenyon Martin team, and this 2010 WVU team), it seems like they'd always run up against a team that was just a little bit too talented and skilled.

Huggins' coached teams win on grit and toughness and one or two star players. He's had that formula for as long as I've watched him. As much as I like them, I'm not sure it's enough to win a title. Not quite enough guard play, and not enough pure blueblood highly-skilled personnel (the Wayne Ellingtons of the world) to cut down the nets. Sometimes you have to have the look, and Huggins has never really coached teams that had that championship look.

I really hope I'm wrong. I would love to see him win a title to complete his resume as an all-time great in the coaching business.

5) Ohio State -- On paper, the Buckeyes don't make any sense as a title threat. They have no low post presence, they basically play 5 guys the whole game, and it's clear that they need superhuman efforts out of Evan Turner to pick up the slack when nothing else is working.

But it almost doesn't even matter. They are in such good condition, and David Lighty just shuts down one future NBA big man after another even though he's only 6'5". The Thad Matta "four out one in" style is perfect for this team's personnel, and they present a really tough matchup for any team that can't match their athleticism on the perimeter.

I'm surprised more teams don't build their team around going small. It's such a difficult style to play against, and it never hurts to have 4 guys on the court who can handle the ball and get out on a break. As long as you have one wing who is capable of playing big on the defensive end (which is really not that hard if you position yourself right), you can create a bunch of mismatches on the offensive end.

Buckeyes got a HUGE break with Kansas and Georgetown going down. Either team would have been a tough matchup with all their athleticism and size and depth. Tennessee is going to be a tough game, but the overall path to the Final Four looks a lot less imposing.

Can't see the Buckeyes winning this thing, but you never know. They need the bracket to continue to break just right for them. Syracuse and Kentucky would be awfully tough challenges, but Evan Turner is capable of anything at this point.

6) Duke - The bracket helps. Duke is playing really well though. Just seems like they are a little more physical and capable of banging in a halfcourt game this year.

Then again, Duke's bracket path is a joke. Purdue is running on fumes, and who knows what will come out of the other side of the bracket. Baylor is a threat, but they haven't exactly looked spectacular thus far.

7) Xavier -- I'm throwing Xavier in purely because they are really talented. Not sure how great their chemistry is, but they have the horses to keep winning. This is a different type of Xavier team. Xavier normally has 5-6 guys who all average around 10 points a game, and win with defense and chemistry and depth of quality personnel that includes good guards and good bigs.

This team is star-driven. Crawford is the most electrifying player Xavier has ever had in my opinion, but Xavier is completely reliant on him. If he gets out of rhythm, they stall out. Still, with a guy that talented and some other talented guys around him (Love, Holloway, Jackson, McLean, etc), they are extremely dangerous.

Chris Mack is proving this year that Xavier is just bigger than their coach. Mack was basically just a local grab as an alum who wanted the job, and he's already in the Sweet 16. I'm not even sure it matters who coaches them these days.

1) I'll preface these thoughts on Notre Dame by saying that ND still had a pretty good season in spite of the loss to Old Dominion on Thursday. Considering where we were at a month ago, getting to the NCAA tournament, finishing 10-8 in the league, and making a respectable showing in the Big East Tournament is not something I can ignore. At the end of the day, if you make the dance, it's a decent season overall.

But I will say that ND's "big stage" problems in football and basketball are really getting to me. We've come up small on big national stages more times than just about any other school out there. This isn't some brief downturn. This is a lost GENERATION of Notre Dame athletics. 1993 through 2010 and counting. What a waste of a brand name. When was the last time we've done anything meaningful or memorable in either sport on the national stage (shock a top seed, deep NCAA run, big college football bowl win, dominating performance, top 2 or 3 seed in the dance, NBA or NFL top 10 pick)? I honestly can't even remember. Our only memorable moments are losses (blowout losses, choke jobs, and "The Loss for the Ages" against USC in 05).

Our fans claim to have high expectations, but I think that has been beaten out of us. I really don't see these so-called high expectations. We've become like Bengal fans or Cub fans. An 8-4/9-3 football season with a Gator Bowl IS GOOD ENOUGH. We still talk about that 2005 team that lost THREE GAMES like they were a team for the ages. A 21-13 type basketball season with a 6 seed and a first round loss is also good enough. We seem content to cling to mediocrity. Meanwhile, Xavier has been to 4 Sweet 16s in 7 years, and they don't have anywhere near the brand name or national profile that we have.

And for the record, this isn't a criticism of Mike Brey. Mike Brey is a good basketball coach. If his bosses were half as committed to championship basketball as Xavier's administrators, he'd be in the Sweet 16 more often than not. I firmly believe that. Put a Jordan Crawford and a Jason Love and a Jamel McLean on his roster, and he'd be playing this weekend. But Brey doesn't have administrative support. You win with TALENT in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier has high level talent. They crank out NBA players every year, and have size and depth and athleticism.

How does Xavier get that talent?? Because they treat their players like royalty. This article about Xavier's program is fascinating to me. Xavier flies everywhere in a private jet. They have some of the best practice facilities in the nation, and they are spending top dollars to recruit in competitive recruiting areas. If Chris Mack wants a private jet to go scout a recruit, he's got it. Meanwhile, ND is taking the Greyhound bus back from New York, and Brey is probably rocking a coach Southwest flight to check out a player.

Xavier gets it. They are invested. They want to win a title or at least go to a Final Four. They are willing to play tough OOC games because it helps their brand. ND wants to win on the cheap. We want to revenue-grab by scheduling a ton of "buy games," we travel on the cheap, we have bad gear and bad practice facilities. Add it all up, and that's exactly why ND has made one Sweet 16 in 25 years and is only a fringe player nationally in college basketball.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your sentiments on West Virginia, and I feel the same way about Tennessee. I've watched both teams and I've noticed they both lack guard play, shooting and general guard leadership. Really, both teams are just full of big and talented forward type bodies. They don't pass well at all and soon enough they will lose.

Interesting comments on ND losing on the national stage. I still think expectations are pretty high (for football) at least, but it has taken a hit.

Wouldn't you agree that its most important for Kelly to beat a couple great teams over the next few years? I know a big problem was that Weis was losing to teams he shouldn't...but in that regard he was no different than Willingham or Davie. The difference is, Davie and Willingham won at least some big games.

It seems like we never had any luck with Weis. We beat a top 5 Michigan team, but then they fall apart and that win is diminished. We crush Penn State and they limp to 9 wins. That's Weis' best statistical victory over 5 years!!

That's why I think its important for Kelly to slay a couple big teams. We need to at least know we can beat a 10-1 USC, a red-hot Michigan team, or some powerful one-loss team in a bowl game. The bad losses are always going to be there...but the big wins need to come back.

The last thing I want is to fall back into the Weisian era where we go 10-3 and 9-4 and try to feel great about it. I mean, back at the end of 2005 it was different if only because it was a signal that MAYBE greater things were to come.

But now, in hindsight, that year pretty much sucked. We lost to MSU and couldn't beat the two great teams we played either. The next year was even worse, probably one of the weakest schedules in ND history and we didn't beat the good teams.

I'd almost favor losing to Navy and Purdue...if it meant a victory over USC a top 10 team. Pyschologically Notre Dame needs a big win now more than ever.

Anonymous said...

Well, we all want to be a BCS-every-year type of program, and maybe we will with Brian Kelly. He certainly has my implicit faith. I don't think there's any doubt or debate about that.

But the whole basketball thing? I don't know. Is that really why Xaiver wins? I would guess that that's debatable. So ND doesn't recruit, and doesn't win on the floor like mighty Xaiver does because we don't look upon ourselves as a big-time program? I didn't know that. I thought it was mainly because we couldn't get enough of the top players that qualify for ND to come here. And we're just not quite good enough to win anymore than we already do, even though we do win quite a lot, and we play in top-notch conference.

And maybe that's just Mike Brey. Maybe he doesn't want to go after the best guys. Even the best guys he can while operating under the institutional strictures at ND. Whatever the truth of the matter is, we're still doing pretty well.

So I guess ND has to commit to becoming a football factory, so to speak, with regard to the b-ball program? Okay, cool. We won't really be ND anymore, we'll just be like Kentucky; but it will be worth it. I suppose. However, I don't think that's going to happen in any case, and there's room for only so many Dukes in the world.

We're just not a powerhouse b-ball program. Is the ND "brand" enough to lift us up several more rungs on the ladder so long as were 'committed' to that goal? I just don't know about that.

What would be interesting to know in much greater detail, would be all about Brey's recruiting. Who he targets, who he doesn't, and how all that transpires. Maybe it really is a matter of bird-dogging a lot more than we currently do. I really don't know. I don't know if our brand is that special with regard to the b-ball program. But maybe it is.

Craig said...

Complaining about the bus back from New York is hitting below the belt. They were planning to fly, and then got hit with weather-related cancellations. The bus trip was forced, and under the circumstances was probably the best way to make the return trip.

If you want to beef about an ND bus trip, beef about them busing back from the game at Cincinnati. That was elective, rather than being forced by weather, and much more reflective of the way the basketball program is run on the cheap.

Craig said...

Anon, ND is 12th in the Big East in basketball spending. Our arena used to be a bad joke (and, coincidentally, we saw a significant uptick in the quality of the recruiting class coincident with renovation). Our practice facilities still are very subpar. By all accounts, Brey gets no breaks from admissions, meaning that Xavier can get a lot of kids into school that Brey can't.

I don't know how good or bad Brey is as a recruiter on top of that, but it looks to me as though his problem is more with how well or poorly he plans out his classes (e.g. having very little in the way of beefy frontcourt bodies last season) rather than how well he identifies and goes after talented players.