Well, I'm back with a college basketball edition! I won't be posting this every week, but with the conference season four games in and as we learn more about our team and the season in hoops overall, I thought it would be a good time to post some thoughts on what's gone on so far.
1. We're not that good. Our early season record was a bit deceiving given the fact our schedule has turned out to be below-average in quality. The fact of the matter is this team is not that good, and that's been shown in the home loss to Georgia (one of the worst in memory) and the road loss to Vanderbilt. We have questionable depth, seemingly no offensive scheme at times, and inconsistency from our scoring trio in Ross, Clarkson and Brown -- who simply must perform well or we're not going to win many games. I admit to being concerned about Haith's coaching ability since day one, and so that might even cloud my vision even more, but I've been unimpressed with the way we've played.
2. We're not that bad. On the flip side, the fact is we're 14-3 and the wins at Auburn and home against Alabama have prevented our tournament chances from going completely up in smoke. And, the fact is our losses are a 1 point loss on a neutral court to Illinois, an OT home loss to Georgia, and a relatively close loss at Vanderbilt. We do have the ability to score a lot of points if we put our minds to it and we are capable of good defense -- see Saturday for that. And, I think our bench -- folks likes Jones, Post, Criswell, etc. -- have the ability to be better than they've been. So, all is not lost.
3. The margin for error is small now. Positive-thinking aside, the fact is that the margin for error now is relatively small given the conference we play in. Just running a count of 68 by going through each league, we'd be right on the edge right now. The problem is the opportunity for excellent "resume" wins is down to two (Florida and Kentucky), there are about five chances (twice vs. TN, twice vs. Arkansas and maybe at LSU) for decent wins, and the rest are games we really need to win. The way I see it we need to be 12-6, or in other words, 10-4 in our remaining games prior to the SEC tournament. That's not going to be an easy task. I just don't see 11-7 getting in without some work in the SEC Tournament. To me, that means winning the rest of your home games (that gets you to 9 wins) and then going 3-4 in your remaining road games. Sounds doable...but...
4. The next stretch is brutal. At LSU, South Carolina, at Arkansas, Kentucky, at Florida. Yikes. We could emerge from that 1-4, quite easily, which would put us at 3-6 and frankly you wonder how the team would respond at Ole Miss after a three game losing streak. If you are at 3-7 it is over. You really, really want to at least go 2-3 in this stretch. 3-2 and you're feeling good. That makes the game Tuesday at LSU absolutely critical. If you get beat LSU, South Carolina, and Kentucky -- you're sitting at 5-4, which is nothing special but you're then facing a not-easy but winnable stretch of games ahead, with a bit of margin for error -- plus you've put the Georgia and Vandy debacles in the rear view mirror and have made up for them with other solid wins. Win two and you're really only able to drop one more out the door. So, let's go win in Baton Rouge, shall we?
5. I hope Jabari and Clarkson stay. For the sake of our program and Coach Haith, I hope these two stay as that would make next year potentially truly special with Bello, Price, Wright, Gant and Biedscheid coming in, along with the other returners. Perhaps we'd finally be able to get some real momentum in play and breed some familiarity with fans.. If they leave, I worry that we'll be much like this year or perhaps worse -- some talent but not enough to do much other than hope for being on the good side of the bubble.
On to college basketball as a whole..
6. The Mountain West isn't as high as it has been. According to Bracketology, only a couple teams from the Mountain West are going to make it this year. This is after a few years of basically becoming a major conference in basketball - getting five teams in last year. The problem is they've enjoyed little, if any, post season success. I do think San Diego State is legitimately great, but beyond that it seems they're headed back towards earth.
7. Had hope for Iowa State. I know it's still early, but I had hope that Iowa State would challenge the Beaks for the Big 12 title. Not so much, now, as KU appears to be well on its way to another title, after a critical stretch of wins, and Iowa State is flailing about. It's too bad.
8. Wichita State is legit. They're 19-0 and have beaten everyone in their path, but their non-con (not really their fault) is not exactly full of major opponents. However, they proved themselves in the dance last year and I fully suspect they will be back with a deep run this year The Shocks are a nice story and part of what makes college basketball special.
9. College basketball has issues. I've addressed this before, but I will continue to mention it as I think it is absolutely imperative the powers that be in college sports address the slow-growing problem that is the state of college basketball. It's no singular thing, either, which makes the problem more difficult to address, but the best way I can put it is that I think the game is losing its luster. We've seen the issue with attendance at Mizzou, where even a weekend conference game barely draws 11K. Even here in Kansas, with three solid teams, two with rabid fan bases in the Shocks and Beaks, I am just seeing what I feel is a gradual decline in passion -- less posts on Facebook, less of it being a priority in the eyes of the average follower. I think there are a lot of reasons for this -- the one and done phenomenon, the general poor quality of play, the officiating, preeminence of March in the season, etc -- but I think we would be wise not to bury our heads in the sand regarding where college hoops is in the overall sports landscape. I think there are a number of possible solutions, but the main thing is to get people to care again. Right now, I am concerned that increasingly people just see hoops as something to do between football seasons.
10. How fun would this be? This is related to my last post, but I think Mizzou should play SLU. Similarly, Kansas should play Wichita State. I used to not feel that way, but I think the sport is in the need of such a boost -- and given Kansas City has such college hoops history, it seems if a resurgence in hoops is going to start, it should start year. And given each is in a different conference, how fun would it be to see to all four compete in a tournament in Kansas City in a "Kansas City Holiday Classic" each fall/early winter, as a kickoff to the season? I think it would help the game and would add excitement, and given where the game is now in the status of fans, to me the "guardians of the game" should try to make this happen.
Well, that's it for now. My Final Four as of today: Arizona, Wichita State, Syracuse, Florida.