Posted on: January 29, 2011 12:31 am
Posted by Matt Jones
Kansas University basketball player Thomas Robinson today sent out a thank you letter to the many fans from around the country who have expressed their sympathies to him following the tragic loss of his mother late last week. Through a spokesman at KU, he sent these words on Friday evening:
I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that has been shown to me and my family over the past few weeks and especially this past week. I don’t know if I could have made it through the week without the support of my teammates, coaches, administration, KU and all the fans. As much as I would like to thank everyone individually, there have been so many cards, emails, texts, tweets and people on facebook that it would be impossible. Trust me, knowing that people care so much for me and my family is helping us get through these tough times.
Though Washington, D.C., and Lawrence are many miles apart, the outreach from all across the nation has been incredible. I appreciate all the offers of support and cannot express how much it means to me to be a Jayhawk and part of this family.
My main concern is for my sister. Jayla is currently with her father in Washington, D.C. It would be comforting for my mother to know Jayla went to college and that is why we set up mom’s scholarship fund. Information on how to contribute to the Lisa Robinson Scholarship Fund is below.
Again, I cannot thank you enough for the thoughts, prayers and support you have shown me, Jamah and Jayla. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Posted on: January 27, 2011 5:03 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2011 5:05 pm
Posted by MATT JONES
But is that notion true beyond the first few rounds? Is it really the case that anyone can win the NCAA Tournament? If history is any guide, clearly the answer is no. No school outside of a BCS conference has won the NCAA Tournament since UNLV, and Tarkanian’s super-talented Runnin’ Rebels could hardly be considered a group of spunky underdogs. While the first two rounds are for the little guys, the overall title is for the big boys and schools outside the elite conferences need not apply.
In fact, the group of potential winners for the NCAA Tournament in a given year is so small, that it can actually be easily predicted. When one looks at the field of 68, the possibilities may seem endless, but in reality they are quite small. Trying to forecast a given winner of a particular edition of March Madness can be difficult, as any person whose bracket was anchored by Kansas or Kentucky last year can attest. However, if a person worries less about picking one winner and instead attempts to select a group of teams from which the winner will certainly come, that proposition is surely a winner.
It is from that premise that a few years ago I created the concept of the “March Five.” The March Five is actually a very simple notion. Each year going into the NCAA Tournament, I pick the five teams with the greatest likelihood of winning the whole thing, and then it is almost certain that the overall champion will come from that group. I began applying the concept in 2000 and it has yet to fail me. Every year I go into the Tournament with five teams and I guarantee a winner from the selction to anyone that will listen. And for 11 straight years, I have been correct. In fact, even if we were go back to 1990 and retroactively apply the concept to the Tournament in those years, only one season (1997 Arizona), would have seen a champion that wouldn’t have been in nearly everyone’s March Five (in fact in a future edition of the March Five, we will run the analysis for all the past seasons).
Looked at in this way then, March Madness becomes much less unpredictable and instead becomes an exercise in selecting five teams that collectively present a 95% chance or better of containing the eventual champion (or at least present that chance in our small sample size). Pick the right teams and you can be all but certain that the highlight montage you select for your “One Shining Moment” will only need five potential closing shots.
Over the next few weeks, I will give you my thought process on picking this year’s edition of the March Five, while adding and removing teams based on performance. Here are our initial five entrants if the Tournament were held today:
March Five status: LOCK
I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Buckeyes do not become the anchor of this year’s March Five group. Thad Matta’s team has all the ingredients for March success. It is led by the best Freshman in the country in Jared Sullinger, who controls the paint with such authority that it becomes difficult to defend him on one end and nearly impossible to score on him on the other. His ability to take up space ensures that no team can get an advantage on the glass and he has showcased surprising leadership at such a young age. The Buckeyes present six legitimate scorers and as Purdue found out on Tuesday night, there is no scenario in which any can be forgotten on the defensive end without being burned. Most importantly, Ohio State can adapt to a number of styles of play, thus allowing them to avoid potential mismatches that are the death knell of other non-March Five worthy teams. Matta’s team is the best in the land in January and only injury can keep it from being a March Five member come Tournament time.
March Five Status: STRONG
This edition of the Blue Devils is probably better than the team that cut down the nets last year, particularly if Mike Krzyzewski gets Kyrie Irving back by March. Kyle Singler is similar to the player we saw last year, but Nolan Smith has substantially improved and provides such a diverse set of skills that he represents an upgrade from Jon Scheyer as a primary scoring option. The Plumlees are playing well enough and even though the depth hasn’t been where we thought it would be, Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry do provide other scoring options. Without Irving, this team does have problems matching up against top-tier athletic teams but if it is shooting the ball well, that won’t matter. Like last season, the Blue Devils are actually slightly under the radar, but their chances of being in the Five at the end are strong.
March Five Status: MEDIUM
If you wrote off Jamie Dixon’s team after the home loss to Notre Dame, you are making a mistake. The Panthers are probably the team with the most ability to adjust to physical opponents and the combination of Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown make them very tough for any team to defend. The emergence of Gary McGhee inside gives Pittsburgh a big body who can control the lane defensively and limit offensive rebounds. Notre Dame did expose how best to attack Dixon’s team, by limiting possessions, working the ball around on offense and exploiting the holes in the Panthers’ mid-range defense. But Jamie Dixon is smart and will adjust to what many are claiming now is a blueprint for success. This is the best equipped team Dixon has had for a March tournament run and the odds suggest that now is the time to do it.
March Five Status: MEDIUM (and rising)
Texas had the most impressive week of any of the top teams last week, surgically dismantling Texas A&M and then ending the nation’s longest winning streak in Lawrence against Kansas. Rick Barnes’ team has the best overall starting lineup of any of the contenders, with each player averaging at least 9.7 points a game. Jordan Hamilton has evolved into one of the best (and most underrated) scorers in the nation and the combination of Gary Johnson, Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph makes Texas almost impossible to defend when it shares the basketball. Two of the three teams that have beaten the Longhorns (Pitt and UCONN) did so by attacking on offense and playing physical on the defensive end. The Big East/Big Ten would give Texas the most trouble in March and matchups problems will be an issue. But when clicking, there may be no team with more overall firepower, making Texas a member of the March Five as of now.
March Five Status: SHAKY
Even before the loss to Texas, I didn’t like Kansas’ chances in March. I think the Jayhawks should still be the favorite to win the Big 12 (Texas has a more difficult schedule and is more vulnerable to upsets), but I worry about a team led by the Morris brothers come Tournament time. The game against Texas involved a difficult set of circumstances, with the death of Thomas Robinson’s mother surely on everyone’s minds. Still, to go as long without a basket as Kansas did and, more importantly, lose poise in the midst of a Texas run, was troubling. But with Josh Selby and the Morris twins, Kansas has the ability to attack on offense like few others and will bring a physical toughness matched by few teams. This is a team that can rise over the next few weeks and I expect that by the final edition of this list, the Jayhawks will be on it. But for now, consider them a shaky addition.
Connecticut, Villanova, Missouri, BYU, Kentucky
Posted on: January 17, 2011 11:54 pm
Posted by MATT JONES
To be honest however, the Buckeyes have too much Big Ten in them for me to yet become enamored with their play. Rather, the most interesting team in America to me is Kansas, for one simple reason. I am fascinated by the Morris twins. I freely admit that I cannot tell them apart without seeing the “C” on one jersey and “K” on the other, but one need not distinguish them to recognize that both have become stars this year in Big 12 play. As shown in the Jayhawks’ 85-65 win over Baylor on Thursday night, the Morris twins are playing as well as any duo in the country and have solidified their status as the best set of college basketball twins since the Lopez brothers at Stanford. Like the Cardinal duo, the Morris twins are tremendous in the post, play with a near-perfect chemistry built upon years of playing basketball together and have outstanding hair, although with the Morris twins, it is on their face instead of their head. Both play with an almost permanent scowl and have put on muscle mass to such a degree that they are basically immovable objects in the paint.
And even with all of this girth, the Morris twins have found an offensive game that has become unbelievably fluid. Against Baylor, Marcus and Markieff combined to shoot a nearly unfathomable 14-15 through the game’s first 24 mnutes. Watching the performance on television, I was reminded of my first memories of the twins, back when the Philadelphia duo was on the AAU/high school circuit, lumbering around with the look of future underachievers, as likely to argue a call as to get a rebound. That duo was talented enough to draw looks from Kentucky, Memphis, Villanova and other top schools, but all recruited with a reservation, wondering if the combination of not one, but potentially two, combustible figures would lead to problems on the college level.
The duo that had me shaking my head in high school has now been replaced by a pair that has Jayhawk fans slowly forgetting last season’s flameout to Northern Iowa and hoping to steal a potential national championship one year later than expected. These Morris twins are stronger, tougher, smarter and more talented than their previous versions and as Kansas State coach Frank Martin recently described them, they have become “two grown men.” This season they have combined for as many as 50 points in a game and against Baylor, they totaled 44, physically imposing their will on a Bears team that simply had no answer for their girth.
In college basketball, there are more talented players than the brothers Morris and unless you like your teddy bears tatted up, it is hard to describe them as anything close to warm and fuzzy. But as we move into conference play, there is no duo who is hitting their stride more impressively than the twosome that once seemed destined to be known primarily for giving their coaches grey hairs. The Morris twins are the most intriguing pair of players in college basketball and are the reason Kansas will be the last team left undefeated in college basketball. Just don’t ask me to be able to tell them apart.
Posted on: January 15, 2011 11:42 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2011 11:45 pm
1. Top two escape at home: With Duke losing earlier this week to Florida State, next week’s top two teams will be Ohio State and Kansas. However both squads got quite a test from unlikely opponents at home on Saturday. Ohio State was forced to rely on a clutch performance from the top freshman in America, Jared Sullinger, who produced a key three point play with 13 seconds to go and the score tied, in order to beat surprising Penn State. The Buckeyes trailed at times in the game and looked more vulnerable than at any point in the past few weeks, potentially giving future Big Ten opponents insight into how to beat its multi-pronged attack. As for Kansas, it slept walked through much of the game, falling behind by ten points to Nebraska early in the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks did just enough to survive down the stretch, but its 63-60 win suggests that its previous close calls to Michigan, UCLA and USC aren’t simply aberrations, but are par for the Jayhawks’ course. While both teams will go into next week, Nos. 1 and 2, they also both look quite beatable by virtually any team in their respective conferences
2. No lead is safe: Vanderbilt had to assume its quick 17 point lead against rival Tennessee would be enough to help it win in Knoxville and slam the door shut on the Vols’ bizarre season. But a late run led by Scotty Hopson helped the Vols to a comeback victory that gives them a slim sliver of life left in the SEC. With Bruce Pearl not yet halfway through his suspension, the win kept Tennessee from opening up conference play 0-3 and showcased that even though its fans were ill-prepared for the rivalry game (only 500 or so people showed up for a College Gameday taping before the game), its players weren’t ready to demolish the season just yet. Even more impressive was the absurd comeback by Louisville, which looked on the verge of NIT land when down 18 to Marquette at home with 5:44 left. But with a late dash of steals, quick scores and four Preston Knowles three-pointers, it made one of the more improbable comebacks in recent college basketball history. For Rick Pitino, the game means his team keeps its head above water in the Big East, while Marquette’s Buzz Williams has to live with one of the worst coaching and team collapses in recent memory.
3. Florida disappoints again: No team is more impossible to predict this season than the Florida Gators. The same team that won impressively in road games at Tennessee and Xavier, has fallen at home to Central Florida, Jacksonville and today, South Carolina. The 72-69 loss to the Gamecocks comes right as I was about to take Florida seriously once again. It looked tremendous in its gutsy win over the Vols in Knoxville and the combination of Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons, Erving Walker and Kenny Boyton seemed to give the Gators enough multiple scoring threats to make them scary in conference play. But now after the loss, we are left with the same Florida team that has disappointed so often in the last three years. Inconsistency, thy name is Florida.
4. San Diego State and Texas A&M are legit: If you saw San Diego State in the pack of unbeatens and determined that they were simply a fluke beneficiary of fortunate scheduling, I hope you took note of today’s 87-77 win at New Mexico. The Aztecs controlled the game at the Pit, led by D.J. Gay’s 30 points and an impressively diverse set of offensive options that make them a terror to try and defend. While New Mexico isn’t a Top 25 team, it is talented and a win in one of the best home courts in America is proof that Steve Fisher’s group is not to be taken lightly. Similarly, if you were ready to assume that No. 13 Texas A&M was going to fade in Big 12 play, that conclusion also may need to be revisited. The Aggies won a hard fought 91-89 Overtime victory over Missouri that showcased what a talent it has in Sophomore Khris Middleton. His name spelling is similar to the Aggies as a team, surprising and orthodox, but potentially with the win over Missouri, now a contender for best in a suddenly deep Big 12 conference.
5. A-10 and Conference USA Flops: Both the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA leagues consider themselves to be worthy of respect and national attention and often shun the notion that they are “second-tier” leagues in college basketball. When one of the leagues has a dominant team, it is thus good for its image as a potential national power, as showcased by St. Joseph’s and Memphis in recent years. Until today, both teams thought another such team could exist this year, but Temple and Central Florida both laid an egg in humiliating road defeats. Neither Temple’s 78-66 loss to Duquesne nor Central Florida’s 86-69 defeat at Southern Miss was ever close and both defeats exposed the weaknesses of the previously ranked teams. For now at least, both leagues will suffer from diminished attention due to the lack of power at the top of the standings.
Posted on: January 14, 2011 12:58 am
Edited on: January 14, 2011 12:46 pm
Posted by MATT JONES
As the horn ticked down the final seconds in Tallahassee on Wednesday night and it became clear that No. 1 Duke would drop from the rank of the unbeatens, the refrain from the pundits in the sports world could be heard once again. "It is impossible to go undefeated in college basketball now and I guarantee it will never happen again!" In reality, it is hard to argue that point. No team has gone undefeated since Indiana in 1976 and with the exception of UNLV in 1991 and Memphis in 2008, no team has really come all that close. College basketball has seen a seismic shift due to the increased attention on basketball in all BCS programs, early entry into the NBA Draft and a changed television landscape that allows more than just the top ten programs to sell the idea of regular national exposure. In that landscape, realistically there are simply too many land mines for a team to ever complete an undefeated season.
Realism however, is overrated. Anyone can say something can't happen. It is much more fun to imagine what could be. In that vein, it is worth exploring which of the four currently undefeated teams is most likely to finish the season without a blemish. To navigate such a road, a team must possess four important traits:
1. Top-Level Coach: Every team, no matter how talented, will be faced with 2-3 games that will be won with late coaching decisions and end-of-game scenarios in which a particular designed play, substitution or defensive adjustment is the difference between victory and defeat. A few years back, current Minnesota coach Tubby Smith told me that coaching was about two things primarily, pre-game preparation/motivation and making the right decision in the last two minutes. With close games inevitable for any team looking to go unblemished, there simply must be a master tactician on the sidelines.
2. Adaptable Personnel: Great teams can come in many shapes and sizes. The 1992 Duke team was built around three superstars (Laettner, Hurley and Grant Hill) and a group of talented role players, the 2007 Florida team had a core starting five as good as any in the last 25 years and the 1996 Kentucky team simply tried to overwhelm its opponents with eight future NBA players. However each of these teams had a vulnerability that when exploited, caused the group to drop random games during the season. An undefeated team must have a very unique quality. It must be adaptable to any style of play and with no obvious stylistic weakness. If your team can't shoot, isn't athletic enough, doesn't play hard-nosed defense or can't rebound, chances are you will face one team on your schedule whose best strength is exploiting that weakness, and your undefeated run will end.
3. A Favorable Schedule: In order to go undefeated, it isn't simply enough that a team be great, its opponents need to also be decidedly mediocre. Every team will face at least eight conference games on the road and potentially another couple of tough games on the road or neutral sites in the non-conference season. Those are at least ten chances to slip up without your home crowd there to rescue you from a bad game. If these opponents are teams like SMU and Houston, as Memphis faced in 2008, the chances of an undefeated season are much greater than if you get UCONN and Pitt. Schedules matter and if an undefeated team is ever to exist, chances are they will play a weak one.
4. Luck: You don't go undefeated without winning at least one game you should/could have lost due to a favorable bounce, loose ball or questionable call. Again, go back to the team that came the closest to accomplishing this feat, the 2008 Memphis Tigers. In two games, Memphis was defeated by end of game shots. If Mario Chalmers misses one three-pointer just an inch to the left or right, John Calipari and the Tigers become immortal legends. Nothing Calipari did (well, except not fouling before the shot went off) had any effect on the shot, but rather his team's fate was in another's hands. Chalmers takes the shot, the ball goes in and 1976 Indiana remains the gold standard. One moment changes history and for an undefeated team, that 50-50 moment must fall with them, instead of against them.
With those four requirements in place, the question then becomes, which of the current undefeateds best meet the criteria? Currently, we are left with Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse and San Diego State as the sole remaining undefeated teams and in reality, none is likely to approach an undefeated season. However with realism not our goal, it is worth ranking the teams in order of potential to reach undefeated immortality:
The Jayhawks' stellar play has been one of the surprises of the early season and with the experience returning from last year's disappointing NCAA Tournament exit, there is a core group of players who have tasted enough big games to contend come March. Bill Self has a National Championship under his belt, but he does have detractors who believe that his in-game adjustments leave something to be desired. Kansas has already survived two games it could have lost this year against USC and UCLA and has an overtime win on the road at Michigan that it was fortunate to escape. The roster is likely the most diverse of all the undefeated teams, with the Morris twins and Josh Selby ensuring that there will be no team the Jayhawks can't score on, or defend. The Big 12 is good, but not great, and with the disappointing play of Kansas State, a couple of games that seemed like hurdles now seem a bit more doable. The only ranked teams the Jayhawks will face on the road are Missouri and potentially Kansas State, thus putting Kansas in the spot of most likely to accomplish this impossible dream.
Most Likely Loss: Missouri, in the final game of the regular season. In the unlikely event Kansas comes in undefeated, Mike Anderson's squad will ensure that no team goes into NCAA play without a blemish.
2. OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes have a superstar in Jared Sullinger and a balanced attack that allows a number of different scoring options depending on how teams choose to defend them. Like Kansas, Ohio State can adapt to a number of different styles and are likely only vulnerable against a team that runs and can put up points in a hurry, a type of play that it doesn't see in the Big Ten. Thad Matta is one of the most underrated tacticians in college basketball and his ability to produce a gameplan specifically designed to exploit his opponent's weakness is consistently undervalued. He has in the past been to the national title game with a young big man and Ohio State wins more than its share of close games. Early this year, the Buckeyes haven't been tested a great deal, but they play in the Big Ten, which this season is the best conference in America. The schedule includes road games at Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Purdue. Matta gets Michigan State in Columbus, but the run of road games against good teams makes for a couple of likely stumbles.
Most Likely Loss: Minnesota on February 6. Tubby Smith's team does not necessarily like to run, but it can shoot and has size in order to attempt to neutralize Jared Sullinger. Smith will need a top win at home and this is exactly the type of game he takes pride in stealing.
No team has been consistently overlooked more often this season than Syracuse. The combination of the "never leave New York" non-conference schedule and the disappointing ending in last year's NCAA Tournament has made the 'Cuse a team with more than its share of skeptics early. Jim Boeheim is one of the best coaches in America and is one of the best at the tactical side of the game. He does however have one of the least adaptable teams among the Top 10 however, as Syracuse has shown itself to be vulnerable to any team that tries to push tempo and can hit threes at a rapid rate. The schedule is brutal, with road games at Pittsburgh, UCONN, Villanova and Georgetown. Syracuse isn't a contender to go undefeated, and its main concern should be finishing in the top three in the Big East.
Most Likely Loss: Pittsburgh on Monday. Pitt is better on both offense and defense and will have a home crowd rocking for the national television audience on Martin Luther King Day. The Orange ride ends then.
4. SAN DIEGO STATE
The Aztecs are a great story, playing in the forgotten Mountain West and bringing the name Steve Fisher back to the mainstream. The team is on the precipice of a top 5 ranking and is getting national attention for the first time in decades. After making the NCAA Tournament last year and with a roster of experienced and talented players, San Diego State is for real. Steve Fischer is a much-maligned figure, who is often given the label as "worst coach to ever win an NCAA title." Still, one can't argue with how he has built the San Diego State program and his winning percentage is impressive. San Diego State matches up well with a host of different teams, but could struggle with the talent gap if it plays one of the other top teams in America. The schedule is harder than it may appear, with three very difficult road games at New Mexico, BYU and UNLV highlighting the rest of the season. Even if it were to get through that run, San Diego State is not a team built to win a championship and would fall in March.
Most Likely Loss: BYU on January 26. The Aztecs could fall this weekend in the Pit vs New Mexico, but if not, will surely see a defeat when Jimmer is unleashed in two weeks.
Posted on: January 10, 2011 10:29 pm
Edited on: January 10, 2011 10:47 pm
Posted by MATT JONES
Kansas coach Bill Self announced Monday night that senior forward Mario Little has been cleared for action following a six-game suspension stemming from a Dec. 16 arrest. Little was charged with a number of misdemeanors in Kansas, including battery, criminal trespass and criminal damage to property. According to Self, Little has accepted a diversion agreement with the Lawrence Municipal Court and will attend weekly counseling sessions stemming from the two battery counts.
The timing of the decision to allow Little back on the team corresponded with the diversion agreement according to Self and it was only after that agreement that he was allowed back on the team.
Self said, "We as a program take the events of December 16th very seriously. Mario made mistakes and exercised poor judgment. We have let the legal process play out and have been able to evaluate Mario in the last four weeks in a variety of ways, including counseling. We feel he should be allowed to rejoin out team for games."
Little thanked his teammates and the program for their support during the suspension and apologized for his actions. On the court, Little had been a reserve forward, averaging just over six points a game prior to the suspension. His first game back will be against Iowa State this week.
Posted on: December 23, 2010 10:20 am
Posted by Matt Norlander
Kansas went into Berkeley last night and defeated Cal, 78-63.
But it wasn't that easy. And it wasn't that breezy. The two teams got progressively angrier at each other as the second half wore on, until tempers flared to the point where Jayhawk Marcus Morris threw an elbow into the beak of Harper Kamp and was promptly ejected. Then, shortly after that, Cal's Jorge Gutierrez had to be subdued by coach Mike Montgomery after wrestling vigorously on the ground for the basketball with Kansas' Thomas Robinson.
No, this did not escalate rather quickly . It was a slow boil, for sure, and it ticked off Kansas coach Bill Self, who spoke afterward about the sequence of events.
"It was ridiculous, and we obviously contributed a great amount to it," Self said. "I think Cal was chippy also, but we didn't handle it very well. We let it bother us too much and had to get the last word in. Really disappointed in Marcus, really disappointed in him, and he got exactly what he deserved."
Check the highlights to see the measures Montgomery was forced to take on Gutierrez. At least he avoided the Van Gundy Method.
Things didn't stop from there, as Kansas' Brady Morningstar later got petty and tried to swipe the ball away from Gary Franklin after the play had been blown dead. In all four technicals were called: Morris, Morningstar, Robinson and Gutierrez were hit.
Fortunately for Kansas, clearly the superior team, the antics didn't cost it the game — though Cal did draw within five points midway through the second half.
"The thing that bothers me in basketball, and Mike would say the same thing, when guy puts their own agenda ahead of the team is very, very selfish," Self said. "That (Morris' ejection and ensuing action) was almost a nine-point play. ... That was about as bad a basketball play as I've ever seen."