Tuesday, April 7, 2009

College hoops re-cap

The college hoops season ended last night with the NCAA Championship game and the most decisive win by a team since UNLV ran over Duke 103-73 in 1990. Congratulations to coach Roy Williams and his Tarheels...and to those players (Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson) who returned to claim North Carolina's fifth NCAA Championship. The national title also took the "he hasn't won a national championship with his own players" label off of Williams.

But, what of the pre-season predictions? How did Carolina's win match up with what the experts predicted before the season?

There are close to a dozen magazines which offered pre-season editions and dozens of online sites which offered their predictions. For the purpose of this exercise, I focused on the two most well-known sports publications, Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News.

SI's pre-season top ten was: North Carolina, Connecticut, UCLA, Louisville, Purdue, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Duke, Texas and Tennessee. The Sporting News went with North Carolina, Connecticut, Louisville, Gonzaga, Michigan State, Texas, Duke, UCLA, Pittsburgh and Memphis.

So, while both picked the same 1 and 2--the eventual national champion and a Final Four team--only SN picked Michigan State highly. And, neither had Villanova, the fourth Final Four team, in their top 10. In fact, SI had Nova 20th; SN did not have them ranked in the top 25.

What of other schools who had great years, e.g., Oklahoma? SI had OU 17th while SN had the Sooners 22nd. Missouri? Didn't crack the top 25 in either magazine. Kansas? 26th in SI's rankings and unranked in SN.

Who were the biggest disappointments? UCLA would have to be up there, given top 10 rankings in both magazines. Notre Dame would be another, ranked 6th in SI and 12th in SN. How about Tennessee? The Vols were picked 10th by SI and 21st by SN. Davidson was picked 18th in SI yet failed to make the NCAA Tournament. SN has Miami 14th, but they ended up in the NIT.

College hoops predictions are always hard--there is no pre-season to see how teams perform, injuries are always a factor and 18-22 year old kids are unpredictable. So, kudos to both pubs for picking the national champion...but also proof that coming close on a top 20 or 25 list is very, very hard.

In the "for what it's worth" department, here are our post-season awards--those who lived up to the hype, those who did not and those who deserve recognition for their season's accomplishments.

Under-performing coaches: Ben Howland, UCLA; Mike Brey, Notre Dame; and Bruce Pearl, Tennessee. Billy Gillispie of Kentucky should also be added to this list, but he faced his penance already by being ousted at UK.

Over-performing coaches: Bill Self, Kansas; Mike Anderson, Missouri; and Jay Wright, Villanova. And, special mention to Roy Williams--he didn't over-perform, given expectations, but did rally his kids past major injuries (Lawson, Tyler Zeller, Marcus Ginyard) and an 0-2 start in the ACC.

Player of the Year: Blake Griffin, Oklahoma.

Disappointing player of the year: James Harden, Arizona State. Yeah, I know, Harden had a heckuva year in the Pac-10. But, the dude flat-out disappeared in the NCAA Tournament.

One-and-done award: Tyreke Evans, Memphis.

Only a little over six months until basketball practice starts again on college campuses--and what should we expect for 2008-2009 in the Big 12? Kansas, provided Cole Aldrich and/or Sherron Collins return and Xavier Henry finds his way to Lawrence, should be a Final Four pick. And, Texas has a great incoming recruitng class to blend in with Dexter Pittman and Damion James (if James does not declare for the NBA.) I can't wait!

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