Gottlieb: Do mid-majors really deserve bids over power conference teams?

While it is easy to agree with Gary Parrish in regards to Wichita State’s sheer dominance of late in the Missouri Valley Conference, it seems that some balance is missing.

Wichita State has been great the past four years, but is that this season’s team? How much bias should we have with a young and mostly brand new roster?

For the record, I would put them in the NCAA Tournament over any Atlantic 10 team not named Dayton, and there isn’t a true mid-major that I would say belongs in above Wichita State in the current likely field.

But before we go about etching the Shockers into the field of 68, we can take a deeper look. What they have going for them is their schedule. Wichita State played Tulsa, Colorado State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to go along with three high-major opponents in The Bahamas.

While I hate the idea that we discount high majors’ schedule because their nonconference is light with a ridiculous conference schedule, the fact is that the Shockers did most everything in their power to load up with fairly difficult opponents.

On the other hand, Wichita State has one win over the likely field (Illinois State by 40) and though the Shockers are playing their best basketball, is it because they are so much better or the competition is so much worse?

I have seen Illinois State up close the past two years and I’m impressed with the speed and quickness of the Redbirds’ talent. When they were curb-stomped by WSU they didn’t have their best player, MiKyle McIntosh, and they got smoked. But, take TCU, Kansas State or Texas Tech as examples. They have all played MVC-caliber teams in nonconference and not lost a game. Their losses come to the elite of the Big 12, the same level of teams that gave Wichita State trouble.

A 30-win team should make the field in most every conference, especially when they schedule up out of league, but don’t they have to win some of the tougher games in order to claim their worthiness, not just their boldness? K-State beat that Oklahoma State team that smoked Wichita State, and did so in Stillwater, and also took down West Virginia. Texas Tech has wins over Baylor and WVU as well and while its Big 12 record is 5-10, why does conference record matter? Against the level of competition Wichita State has beaten, it hasn’t lost a game.

Let’s take TCU for example.

The Horned Frogs beat Illinois State at home. Just like Wichita State did, only ISU had McIntosh. They played UNLV and Washington in Las Vegas. Keep in mind, this event was scheduled by Trent Johnson’s staff, but even so, playing UNLV in Vegas and Washington in a normal year, is a very difficult exempt event. TCU also played Washington at home, lost to Metroplex rival SMU on the road, smashed Bradley, as Wichita State did, at home, and lost at home to Auburn. Most high-major schools play five or six quality opponents out of league. The Big 12’s double round-robin is the most difficult schedule in the sport and TCU’s schedule out of the league might not have Louisville or Michigan State, but it isn’t actually far off in overall toughness of competition.

Point is, TCU has played a far more difficult overall schedule, to this point it has beaten Iowa State, won at K-State and if it were to sweep Oklahoma, it would be 4-2 (two losses to Oklahoma State that WSU lost to in downtown Wichita by 17) against common opponents that WSU is 4-3 against.

Wichita State is playing great. If I am on the committee I reward a season of excellence by both Illinois State and WSU and put them both in, but are they really better than K-State, TCU or Texas Tech?

Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood will get a raise

People are freaking out because Brad Underwood is only making $1 million while helping Oklahoma State rise from an 0-6 start in Big 12 play to being one of the hottest teams in the country

Underwood is getting his much deserved respect nationally. Locally writers have pointed out his relative paltry salary and nationally it has caught some people’s eye as well. What you must understand is that when Underwood took the job, he turned down $2 million from UNLV and Saint Louis for $1 million in Stillwater.

He really wanted either the OSU or possibly the Wichita State jobs, which are both close to McPherson, Kansas, where he grew up, and both are jobs he felt he could coach, recruit and win the way he desired. Oklahoma State has paid Les Miles and Mike Gundy small salaries up front only to compensate them fully when they proved themselves.

In addition, OSU was in bad financial shape with four years left on the bill for Travis Ford and oil at $50 a barrel or so, with an empty arena last season costing more and more by the day

In other words, business is much better, Ford’s salary is off the docket as Saint Louis hired him and Underwood will get a new deal at the end of this season, like Ford did. The difference will be in total years as Underwood seems to want to be in Stillwater forever, but will probably just have a healthy raise over the next five years.

Meanwhile his team is playing great, and the most impressive part is that he has shown flexibility. Underwood wanted to pressure all over the court and it worked until conference play. Now with Leyton Hammonds giving OSU a fourth scoring option, the high-powered Cowboy offense, combined with two different styles of defense, might be the second toughest out in the NCAA Tournament. Sadly the only piece missing is depth of rebounding and scoring inside, which was lost when Tyrek Coger died in summer conditioning due to an enlarged heart. OSU will likely lose Jawun Evans and finally loses Phil Forte after this season, so there will be some drop off talent wise next season in the back court. If this season is a guide, the Cowboys have a coach who can figure out how to win with whoever he has on his roster.

Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood has the Cowboys playing better lately. USATSI

It seems more than likely that John Groce will lose his job at Illinois

Tough part about the sport is when good guys just don’t win enough games, while not selling their soul to land one last big recruit. John Groce has been snake-bitten at point guard as Tracy Abrams, who I’m not sure was going to be good enough anyway, got hurt two consecutive years. Additionally the staff thought they would land Jalen Brunson, who instead helped lead Villanova to a national championship. By my estimation Groce’s style is a little too loose with shot selection, which helped his Ohio teams win MAC tourney titles, but never finished higher than third in his side of the MAC in the regular season.

Which brings us to coaching hires. So often the hot guy in the NCAA Tournament is hired, but athletic directors should look at teams that win consistently in their league. Steve Pickell is doing a very good job early on at Rutgers and he was passed over constantly for bigger jobs because Stony Brook didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. I would be much more likely to hire someone who won their league outright several times than the “hot coach.”

Groce also took some chances on players transferring UP. He struck gold with Rayvonte Rice, but Khalid Lewis, Mike Thorne and Ahmad Starks weren’t good enough to win at the Big Ten level, even as veterans of college hoops.

Don’t be surprised if Bob Williams at UC-Santa Barbara retires this season

UC-Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams’ contract is up in Isla Vista and Williams is having his worst season in 35-plus years as a coach. That is all the sign anyone needs that he will ride into the sunset.

Williams led UC-Davis to a Division II national championship the year before taking over for legendary Gaucho coach Jerry Pimm. Keep in mind that Williams has put two players in the NBA, taken the Gauchos to the NCAA Tournament three times and has graduated every player who has finished their eligibility with him. UCSB’s gym, the Thunderdome, was once one of the toughest places to play in the West, but the Big West has been passed by the WCC because of the prominence of Gonzaga and to a lesser extent Saint Mary’s. Best guess on a replacement is a West Coast assistant with strong recruiting ties to SoCal, Fresno and transfers.

Fans are freaking out in Austin over Shaka Smart

You hear whispers that Texas coach Shaka Shaka is not that good and his team is “soft” especially in comparison to Rick Barnes’ teams. Put me on record that this will mostly change next season.

First of all, the Longhorns are still very young. They lost their point guard, and their two starting big men. Prince Ibeh was the best rim protector in the Big 12 last season and he was replaced by a skilled, but soft, freshman.

Most will point to Matt Coleman, a five-star point guard, as the guy needed to lead the resurgence, but I would also point to Dylan Osetkowski. Osetkowski was an all-league level sophomore at Tulane who left when Ed Conroy was fired last year. He is 6-feet-9 and my spies tell me he has added 15 pounds to his frame and will be considered an NBA-caliber prospect when he is eligible.

Even with the likely premature departure to the NBA by Jarrett Allen, Texas, along with Oklahoma, will challenge Kansas for a league title next season.

Texas coach Shaka Smart will have a solid squad next season. USATSI

Oklahoma scored big by landing Young

It was bigger for the Sooners that they landed Trae Young then it was for Kansas to not get Young. Young, who is the closest thing to Stephen Curry in high school hoops, will make OU a legit NCAA team next season. Keep in mind that OU is super young, Jordan Woodard, the Sooners’ best player, is lost for the season with a torn ACL, and they have shown a ton of growth and maturation in the past couple weeks.

After losing a big lead to Oklahoma State on the road and putting up a fight against Baylor at home, OU’s youngsters are improving even if the wins aren’t there to show it yet. Add in Young, who, like Curry, has detractors because he is not a blur and will get humbled some early in his career. He needs to learn shot selection, defense and how to run a high-major team. If he does that, OU should compete for the Big 12 title next season.

Purdue’s Painter has advice for former player

The best thing I saw all season was Ronnie Johnson, who started as a sophomore at Purdue along with his brother, then transferred to Houston and is now at Auburn, talking for the first time to Matt Painter at the hotel in Cancun.

Painter and Johnson had not spoken since a phone conversation lead to Johnson leaving West Lafayette three years ago. Painter told me that he had heard Johnson was unhappy and after reaching out to talk things through, it became obvious that it wasn’t going to work. Purdue has of course gotten back on track and is poised to possibly win the Big Ten, while Johnson was a stop gap at Houston and plays off the bench, but contributes plenty to a very young Auburn team.

Painter made it a point to tell Johnson to “get your master’s” from Auburn.

“Look man, life is too short to think about what could have happened or what should happen, but if you have a master’s, you will always have a job and Auburn is going to pay for you to earn it,” Painter said. “Take advantage of that.”

With that they hugged and parted.

Painter is right and while Johnson can earn some coin playing overseas, what then? The five-year rule has good intentions, but players should, as Bob Knight once said, get a sixth year to play four if they transfer after graduating. Meanwhile college coaches get a bad rap from social media and some coaches without proper values, a degree opens up a lot of doors and a master’s doubly so.

How Butler did it again vs. Villanova

Butler coach Chris Holtmann pulled off one of the year’s biggest upsets in beating Villanova at the Pavilion on Wednesday

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind. Nova’s interior defense isn’t nearly the same without Darrell Reynolds. Though Butler didn’t gouge Nova with post touches, the Bulldogs got plenty of good looks in there and Nova over committed to helping without any big man inside. But the biggest key was that Butler made Nova beat it off the dribble. Everyone has been crowding Kris Jenkins, who does nothing other than shoot jumpers nowadays. Butler did the same to most of the Wildcats. While Jalen Brunson was spectacular at times, he simply could not get a step on Andrew Chrabascz when he needed to.

So many are intrigued by Micah Bridges, but his lack of offensive game is glaring and yes, Nova misses Phil Booth ... or at least the Phil Booth that had 30 in three combined Final Four games. Still Butler’s offense moved the ball from side to side or scored quickly in transition, two elements that must occur to beat Nova. It also slowed Brunson in transition with help from the in-bounder’s man. All in all a magnificent win for the Dawgs, who now get a wounded Xavier team on the road Saturday as a reward.

What to do with Xavier

Trevon Bluiett returned, but Xavier is a mess and ran into a desperate Seton Hall team. Having seen Xavier up close last week, I can’t say that the Musketeers are playing like a tourney team.

However, as Bluiett gets healthy, I cannot see Xavier being left out of the dance seeing as the Musketeers beat Creighton without Edmond Sumner, but with a freshman point who is learning on the job late in the season. X is left with Blueitt and J.P. Macura to carry them in the tourney and that doesn’t seem to be enough.

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