TOURNEY THOUGHTS; NY BASKETBALL’s SAD STATE

March 26, 2010

John Feinstein, of The DC Post, talked about the rumored Tournament expansion.
“Let us begin today, after one of the great weekends in the history of college basketball, with this question: Why would anyone want to change this
tournament? It is about as close to perfect as a sporting event can get — if you forget the endless timeouts, the 20-minute halftimes and the absolutely
ridiculous late-night tip-offs. And still the NCAA and the WCA (Whining Coaches of America) want to change it?
To quote the great basketball maven John Patrick McEnroe Junior: You can not be serious!
If the tournament was expanded, teams such as Northern Iowa, Saint Mary’s and Cornell would have fewer opportunities to create memories against
Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 seeds. Please, for the love of basketball, let someone with a grain of sanity intervene before it’s too late.
Then again, it may already be too late. For college presidents, conference commissioners and NCAA administrators, nothing starts the morning like the smell of money. Ask the ACC power brokers, who thought conference expansion was such a swell idea. That’s worked out so well that over the past five seasons, the ACC has sent one fewer school to the round of 16 (Duke, North Carolina and Boston College) than the Missouri Valley (Wichita State, Bradley, Southern Illinois and now Northern Iowa.)
Anyway, back to the tournament. What the heck happened to Georgetown?  good enough to beat Syracuse, Duke, Butler, Temple, Washington, Villanova and Pittsburgh but careless enough to lose at home to South Florida, Old Dominion and Notre Dame (without Luke Harangody), not to mention an awful road loss to Rutgers.
Hot and cold basketball will get you burned at some point in March, and it happened very early for Georgetown. There’s just no reason to lose in the first round as a No. 3 seed, especially to a team that finished ninth in the Mid-American Conference. Now John Thompson III has to sweat out the next few
weeks wondering if Greg Monroe will return.
There will be no sweating — figuratively, at least — for Gary Williams There was a lot of good in Maryland’s season: a tie for first place in the ACC;
conference coach of the year for Williams and player of the year for Vasquez. But no matter how thrilling the comeback was on Sunday against Michigan
State, no one at Maryland can walk away satisfied with this postseason.
Both losses, the one to Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament and the one Sunday to Michigan State, were similar: The Terrapins dug themselves a deep hole and almost escaped it thanks to their press. They pulled many similar escape acts in the regular season. Sooner or later, though, that style catches up with you Sunday, they fell behind by 16, even though the Spartans’ Kalin Lucas got hurt in the first half, before rallying to take the lead late.
Three seniors ended their careers Sunday: Landon Milbourne, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez. Hayes and Milbourne were underrated by most; Vasquez
was overrated by many.
That’s not to say Vasquez wasn’t a wonderful player. He had a fabulous senior season, deserved to be ACC player of the year and hit a lot of big shots,
including the one that gave Maryland the lead with six seconds left Sunday. But Vasquez missed a lot of big shots too — see Georgia Tech, final minute — and maybe should have found Hayes or Milbourne or the wonderfully talented freshman big man Jordan Williams, on a few more occasions.
Was Vasquez an outstanding college player? Absolutely. But top five in Maryland history? In the same sentence with John Lucas, Len Elmore, Tom
McMillen, Buck Williams, Albert King or Len Bias? No. What about Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Steve Blake? The last three led Maryland to 13 NCAA tournament wins during their careers, including a national title and two Final Fours. Vasquez led Maryland to three NCAA tournament wins. This isn’t meant to denigrate Vasquez; it’s meant to be realistic. He deserves lots of applause going out the door but not the statue some people seem to want to build.
So the local hoops season is over. Sixteen teams are left to decide the national championship. The three best stories remaining are, without question, Cornell, Northern Iowa and Saint Mary’s.
What was the selection committee watching when it made Cornell a No. 12 seed? The Big Red’s two victories in Jacksonville weren’t flukes at all winning by 13 and 18 while trailing for a total of about one minute all weekend. Now it faces Kentucky, and the contrasts are inescapable.
Kentucky point guard John Wall is the prototype one-and-done player, headed for the top five (at least) in the NBA draft in June. He had to sit out his first two college games because he had $800 in travel expenses taken care of when he made “unofficial” visits to several campuses as a junior. His counterpart is Louis Dale, who begged Cornell Coach Steve Donahue to look at him on tape and brought a $400 deposit check with him on his official visit to Cornell. A player giving money to a coach. Talk about role reversal. 
Is in the South Region, facing a very solid Baylor team in one game while Duke plays Purdue in the other game. Purdue may be the first No. 4 seed in history to make the Sweet 16 by pulling two “upsets.” Few people — including this one — expected the Boilermakers to advance this far without Robbie Hummel. Now, it would be foolish to count them out. The same is true of Saint Mary’s.
Northern Iowa is in the Midwest and will play Michigan State. With Lucas out, the Spartans are certainly beatable if on Saturday. Ohio State, which plays
Tennessee in the other game in St. Louis, has to be considered the favorite in the Midwest, but at this point being the favorite in any region doesn’t count for much.
The one region that doesn’t have a true Cinderella is the West, if only because Butler is too consistently good to qualify for the role. Should the Bulldogs beat top-seeded Syracuse (they didn’t), they might have a claim on the title. And speaking of teams that are too good to be Cinderella, consider Xavier. The Musketeers, who will play a very good Kansas State (and lost to them) team in the other West Region semifinal, are in their third straight Sweet 16.
Let’s count all the other teams in the country that have been to three consecutive Sweet 16s: Michigan State. That’s the list. That’s how tough it is make it to the second week of this tournament year in and year out.
Yet another reason not to change a thing.”
For more from the author, visit his blog at http://www.feinsteinonthebrink.

Then John Jeansonne, of  NY Newsday, wanted a greater focus to be paid to class work, capitalizing STUDENT in student-athlete.

“If you take the student out of the student-athlete for college basketball’s delightful Spring Psychosis, there need not be any player (or team) left behind. But if the NCAA were to adopt a proposal by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – that “teams failing to graduate 40 percent of their players should be ineligible for post-season play,” virtually every bracket already would be busted.
Applying Duncan’s rubric, championship co-favorite Kentucky never would have made it to tip-off for Thursday night’s easy victory over East Tennessee
State. Three other first-round winners – Baylor, Tennessee and Washington – also would have been eliminated even before the hoo-hah of Selection Sunday.
Plus, eight others (in order of worst to nearly-as-bad graduation rates) would not have met the Duncan requirement, based on statistics compiled by the
Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, or TIDES, at the University of Central Florida: Maryland, Cal, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, New Mexico State, Missouri, Clemson, Louisville, Georgia Tech. (Yet eight other teams had graduation percentages only in the 40s, meaning that 20 of the tournament’s 64 teams don’t graduate even half of their players.)
“When one in five men’s teams graduate less than 40 percent of their players,” Duncan said in his tournament-eve conference call, “how serious is the
institution and coach about academic success?”
These are, after all, “college” teams. Duncan acknowledged reforms by the late NCAA president, Myles Brand, that have caused the graduation rates of
college football and basketball teams to rise during the past decade. Under Brand, the NCAA created the APR – Academic Progress Rate – in 2004 to track classroom progress of each team’s players.
But the annual exercise by TIDES and its director, Richard Lapchick, has found a widening gap between graduation rates of black and white athletes.
Lapchick, Duncan and NAACP director Benjamin Jealous all expressed a “growing concern” that schools and coaches too often find talented players from poor, urban areas merely to serve as stars on the basketball court, with no emphasis on educating them.
Of the 12 NCAA tournament teams that failed to reach a 40-percent graduation rate, six of them nevertheless graduated 100 percent of their white players, the TIDES report found. Jealous, in enthusiastically backing the Duncan idea, contended, “Student-athletes rise to the expectations of the coach. What you see [with low graduation rates] is where the coach doesn’t set the bar high enough.”
Duncan said, “We’re trying to prepare students for life, not for W’s on the court. Myles Brand was a hero of mine in leading the NCAA.
But [previous reforms] don’t go far enough. The issue is that some institutions are committed to graduate their athletes; others are not.”
A player who transfers or leaves school early in search of a pro career does not count against the graduation rate in the TIDES report – as long as he departs in good academic standing. And, to any defender of the status quo, tempted to cast Duncan as a pointed-headed intellectual antagonistic toward big-time sports, Duncan reminded that “both my sister and I were lucky enough to play college basketball” and his father served as faculty representative to the NCAA at the University of Chicago.
On his way to graduating magna cum laude with a sociology degree in 1987, Duncan was Harvard’s basketball co-captain, an Academic All-American who
outscored Duke star Danny Ferry, 20-15, when their teams met. Duncan raved about the “discipline, selflessness and courage that all will be on display” during March Madness, but argued that “intercollegiate athletics and education have to go hand in hand.”
He made it clear that the 40-percent proposal simply is that – “a proposal to the NCAA. This is not a federal mandate. I grew up with players who struggled because they never got an education. The question I have is, ‘Why do we tolerate those situations?’ This is all about integrity. When you raise expectations, people will respond to that. I’m convinced, if you set a clear bar, the graduation rate will rise [and lead to] closing the gap between racial outcomes.”
There is, not surprisingly, a claim among some bracketologists out there that cracking down on graduation rates would rob the tournament of its top basketball talent, downgrading the Big Dance to some badly choreographed, two-left-feet stumble. But the daily on-line publication, Inside Higher Ed, contradicts that reasoning with its current Academic Performance Tournament, which advances teams through its unique NCAA bracket based solely on classroom performance.
This year’s championship final, Inside Higher Ed figures, will match Kansas against Duke, two No. 1 seeds with team graduation rates of 73 and 92 percent.
No educational malpractice in that.”

Frank Deford, of SI.com, remembers the time when NY basketball filled the papers- now not so much.
“As the NCAA tournament heads toward the regionals, as the NBA bides its time until the playoff push begins — that is, as basketball rules the day — it’s
ironic that New York, the city where the game really gained popularity at Madison Square Garden, has never been more of a basketball laughingstock.
Why, if Damon Runyon was eating cheesecake at Lindy’s today, this is what he’d be saying: “It is a pretty pass indeed when, as it is indisputably known to all guys and not a few dames, that it is here that the hardwood game first flowered, but we have now not one team of quality, and I give you six-to-five that our fabled Garden is itself full of weeds.”
Ah, the Garden — the place where college basketball first gained an urban foothold, starting in 1934 when a promoter named Ned Irish began scheduling college doubleheaders. Later, he invented the National Invitational Tournament, which was a bigger salami than the NCAA for many years. New York teams like NYU, St. John’s, Long Island University, CCNY packed the joint and were the powers in the sport. Every team in the country wanted to play there, as sure as every chantoosie wanted to sing at the Copa.
Then, when the NBA got going, sure, the Knickerbockers may have often been bums, but now there were pro doubleheaders — meaning that, for many
years, half the league’s eight teams were sometimes all there together in the same smokey barn. For the guys wearing satin shorts, it was their Broadway, and, in fact, the Garden was invariably referred to as the “Mecca of basketball.”
Today, deferentially, the teams that come into the Garden still profess to swoon at working the Mecca, but it’s merely being polite — like asking for an
autograph from some faded old movie star — because the fact is now that every city of any size and most big-time colleges possess basketball cathedrals every bit as impressive. After all, arenas and stadiums are what passes nowadays for American infrastructure. The Garden and New York live off basketball memories. Not a single New York area team even got a whiff of the NCAAs.
Not only that, but the Knicks have been toxic waste for years, and across the river, the Nets are striving, manfully, to put up the worst record in NBA history.
New York high schools still produce lots of terrific players, but as soon as they pass their SATs they get the first jet out to some bucolic campus in the sticks.
Not only that, but to add to the Big Apple’s basketball disgrace, the upstate of New York — which, for the city’s sporting types, has historically only consisted of the Saratoga race track — not only produced a number-one seed in Syracuse, but also in the regionals it has . . . Cornell.
Cornell! From the Ivy League. Cornell, from far above Cayuga’s waters. Wherever. Syracuse and Cornell. And there in New York City, a basketball vacuum.
It’s like they took the kangaroos out of Australia.”

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