In Season 6, Episode 7 ("The Post-it Always Sticks Twice," which is par for the terrible SatC title course) Carrie, our heroine, receives news of a break-up with boyfriend Berger via a post-it note. It reads: "I can't. I'm sorry. Don't hate me."
In 2003, this was a shocking and comedic state of affairs. To break-up via a few short words, without personal contact? Even the jaded, seen-it-all-New York women of SatC's world were positively scandalized. A decade later, in our Tinderized world, a post-it note almost feels almost quaint.
Missouri athletic director Mike Alden can identify.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dave Matter, former Mizzou coach Frank Haith called Alden on Thursday morning to tell him that Tulsa had offered him a seven-year deal worth roughly $1.85 million per year. Then, on Friday morning, Haith informed Alden he would accept the position. And how? Via text message.
We don't know what the text actually said, but Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger's guess seems about right:
Mike, OMG, gone to Tulsa:)! Pleez tell players. Sorry about the Miami stuff and last 2 yrs LOLz:( #yolo— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) April 18, 2014
The break-up analogy is an easy one. For the past decade, as technology has made communication easier, the world has also fretted that ease would translate into weightlessness -- that being able to break up with someone via text message would suddenly cause everyone to start doing so.
Anecdotally, anyway, this prophecy hasn't come to pass. Big break-up conversations are still in-person ordeals. People at least make a phone call. A text message is about as weak as it gets. End it via text, and you're liable to end up on Lulu. Be forewarned.
A more direct analogy is your own job: Can you imagine, in a million years, telling your current boss that you had accepted a new position via text message? Unacceptable, right? And yet in Haith's world, this is just how business is done. At least Berger said he was sorry.
Well this suddenly is interesting.
Until this week, the coaching carousel was a pretty mundane kiddie ride. Coaches most everyone expected to be handed pink slips did, in fact, get their walking papers, and no huge seismic shifts came with their replacements.
And then in the span of three days, the universities of Tennessee and Missouri were rejected like jilted bridegrooms by their coaches.
Cuonzo Martin, unappreciated by both his fan base and administration, left Tennessee for Cal, a good job but certainly not as good as the one in Knoxville. He had done well by most folk’s standards -- a winning record and Sweet 16 berth this year -- but was never able to escape his predecessor's shadow -- figuratively and literally. Bruce Pearl's NCAA tournament success loomed over Martin, who needed three years to return the Vols to the tourney, and his Knoxville address didn’t make things any easier.
He made no bones about his dissatisfaction, eyeing the gig at Marquette before leaving for Berkeley this week.
Frank Haith, meantime, was never viewed as an inspiring hire by Mizzou people. After Mike Anderson left for Arkansas, the general consensus on Haith, who had an OK but not hugely successful run at Miami, could be best summed up by a friend of mine who squeaked, "Frank Haith?" when the hiring was announced.
When the coach subsequently was implicated in the Miami NCAA scandal, it didn’t exactly help. Neither did an NCAA tournament upset as a 2-seed at the hands of 15-seed Norfolk State after a 30-win season two years ago.
The strange thing is, the Missouri administration expressed its faith in Haith amid the NCAA scrutiny, but after a disappointing NIT berth this year, most folks figured the coach was headed to a Show-Me year in the Show-Me State in 2014-15. He merely got ahead of the posse, it seems, by leaving for Tulsa.
Now, neither fan base is exactly crying in their coffee over the departure of either coach, with both groups convinced they can get a coaching upgrade.
Arms race, anyone?
Fair or not (and mostly not), these two hires will be compared to one another -- for initial impact, and more than likely, for long-term success. The schools and the programs are too similar, the timing too close for it to be otherwise.
In SEC hoops, there is Kentucky, there is Florida and there is everyone else jockeying for third.
There aren’t many teams that can lay claim to that bronze-medal position but count Tennessee and Missouri among the group that can. Both could open their wallets if they wanted to, with the backing of fervent and well-funded boosters; each has decent facilities and most of all, a history that is not covered entirely in dust.
The Volunteers went to six consecutive NCAA tournaments under Pearl and returned this year under Martin. The old coach had a 2010 Elite Eight berth to show for his efforts; the new coach, this year’s Sweet 16.
Missouri, meantime, had five consecutive NCAA tourney berths on its resume and a regional final run in 2009.
In other words, there’s plenty to work with for a new coach.
But who will those new coaches be? Already both sides are clamoring for the home run hires -- Shaka Smart or Gregg Marshall (the real winners here, by the way? Smart and Marshall's agents), but the reality is, right now winning the news conference has to be the least of these two school's concerns.
Whatever their individual reasons, Martin and Haith lasted only three short seasons. That’s not long enough, not in a top-heavy league such as the SEC, where gaining ground on the front-runners usually requires wading through quicksand.
Athletic directors Mike Alden at Missouri and Dave Hart at Tennessee each need to hire for stability more than headlines and find coaches that fit.
It's never an easy job, leading a coaching search, especially when everyone is watching.
And no doubt, comparing.
We saw dozens of changes to collegiate basketball's conference structure in the past five years. As they happened, it felt too fast to catalog -- too cluttered among the theories and contingencies and rumors of the periphery. But after deals were finalized and publicly announced, it took years for schools to leave their former leagues -- for this chaotic mess slowly to morph into some recognizable form. The process became tectonic.
Conference realignment was fast and slow at the same time. It was super weird.
Take the old Big East. In September of 2011, Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame announced they would leave the old Big East for the ACC. Between then and now, the "old" Big East has seen 14 schools announce departures for other conferences and 15 new schools join. It saw seven of its founding members leave and take the name, $10 million from league coffers, and rights to Madison Square Garden with it. It rebranded itself as the American. It had a pretty stellar first season. One of its flagship schools (UConn) won the national title in its conference's first year of existence. And it still isn't done realigning: This summer, Louisville leaves for the ACC.
The new Big East skipped this process. In December of 2012, the Catholic schools decided to break off from the now-American. On March 5, 2013, they learned they controlled the Big East marks and records grab-bag. On March 15, ESPN reported that Butler, Xavier and Creighton would join the new conference. On March 20, the new conference, with its new TV deal, was announced. In June, it became official.
Unlike nearly every other entity in college basketball, realignment's creation of the "reconfigured" Big East felt fast because it actually was fast.
Just 13 months after it was announced, the Big East already has one season in the books. How did that go?
There's no official count here, but it's safe to say we've never written as many words about any player as we've written about McDermott. That is by far the least impressive of his statistics. The most impressive: McDermott finished his career fifth all-time in scoring, with 3,150 points. One could go further here -- could rattle off the list of mind-bending statistics McDermott accomplished this season. But we did that so much this season we have very little left to say. It's probably better if you just go to his Basketball-Reference page and see for yourself. It's the same feeling you get when you look at Barry Bonds' numbers, minus a mental image of a gigantic head.
Anyway: After two seasons of genius in the Missouri Valley, McDermott's brilliance got a full and proper airing in the Big East this season. From the numbers to the moments -- including two demolitions of Villanova that rank among the greatest 80 minutes of offensive basketball we've ever seen -- he didn't disappoint.
What we expect next season: Of course, there were other noteworthy stories in the Big East last season. Not least of which was the return of Villanova to the ranks of the elite.
Save for those two free Creighton clinics, Jay Wright's team was among the nation's best defensive groups for most of the season. The Wildcats finished the regular season 29-3, with losses to the Bluejays and Syracuse. Their third-round defeat to UConn was disappointing, though less so in hindsight, but either way the immediate future is very bright. The Wildcats return four starters from last season's team (Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard II, JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu) and promising rising sophomore Josh Hart, who posted a 126.8 offensive rating this season, looks primed to take a bigger role. Oh, and there are two top-100 players (forward Mikal Bridges and guard Phil Booth) arriving, arguably giving Wright even more depth and versatility to play with even without star senior James Bell.
For these reasons, Villanova could not look like a more surefire Big East favorite. There are others. McDermott is gone; Creighton will take an obvious step back. Bryce Cotton, who averaged nearly 40 minutes a game (almost all of them thrilling, too) has graduated from Providence and left a big spiritual hole in Ed Cooley's lineup. Georgetown has a top-10 recruiting class on the way -- and, man, did it need one -- but John Thompson III may still be a year away from title contention. Xavier is intriguing,
It was that last move that caused some to wonder about the fate of the reconfigured Big East. Did Williams decide that a league without football wasn't the place to be? Maybe, maybe not; his move probably had just as much to do with personal and individual reasons as anything else. But the question is nonetheless in the air: Can the new Big East survive? How good will this conference be? Its first season was dominated by one of the game's greatest-ever offensive players. Next season it'll have its work cut out.
As a freshman at UCLA in 2013-14, guard Zach LaVine averaged 9.4 points on 7.8 shots, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 24.4 minutes per game. In late March, after Florida ended UCLA's season in the Sweet 16, LaVine's father, Paul LaVine, told the Los Angeles Daily News that his son -- a too-thin backup guard who scored 11 points in his final five games -- would be one-and-done.
People mostly laughed.
“Every year he spends at UCLA after this one is a waste,” Carter said. “It really is.”
LaVine, for all of his obvious potential, was not exactly Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, so all of this stuff was pretty funny. Others saw something more sinister: The NBA and its agents tempting a player who wasn't ready with the promise of freedom and riches. The 19-year-old age limit rearing its ugly head once more to the detriment of all involved.
The problem with all of the jokes is that LaVine's family was right: LaVine has as good a chance to develop in the NBA as he did as a college basketball player.
To insist he didn't was to insist that college basketball owns a monopoly on player development. The scoffs stemmed from the idea that a player must be ready to play in the NBA from the moment he steps into the league to have any hope of long-term success, that development stops at the draft decision. Much as the collective college hoops consciousness may like to think this is the case, it's not.
Just ask Duke's Jabari Parker:
Ultimately, I boiled my decision down to two simple questions:
Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow as a basketball player?
Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court?
The answer to both questions is undeniably the NBA.
That was Parker, writing with Jeff Benedict for Sports Illustrated Thursday, announcing his decision to turn pro. The announcement is about as unsurprising as draft decisions get: Parker is practically guaranteed to be a top-three pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and top-three picks almost never turn down the draft.
Still, if there was any player for whom such a decision may have made sense, it was Parker. He's a thoughtful dude with a genuine desire to earn a degree. He played for Mike Krzyzewski, arguably the greatest college basketball coach ever and a two-time Olympic gold-medal winner. Duke has world-class facilities and fan support. There are few better places in the world for a teenage college basketball player to develop on or off the court.
Plus, as Parker wrote, a loaded 2014 Duke class is led by his "good friend," center Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 player in the country. If Parker had returned, Duke would have been favored to win the national title from now until next March. (That starting lineup -- some combination of Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Parker and Okafor -- is terrifying even as a hypothetical.)
And none of it was enough to keep Parker in college.
There are good financial arguments for the NBA, of course, and Parker is good enough that he doesn't have to take the short-term risk that, say, LaVine might. Parker is an obvious NBA talent with a decade of potential to mine until his peak. LaVine is all risk-reward. But the larger point remains: Parker had about as good a collegiate situation as any player could ever ask for, and was nonetheless convinced that the NBA was the better place for him to "grow and develop" in every facet of his life.
Whatever new NBA commissioner Adam Silver eventually proposes to replace the current age limit -- and all signs are that Silver would very much like to make a change -- this is a key consideration for folks on the college side to understand. The argument has always been framed much differently. College basketball was the place to develop. The NBA was the place to get paid. How long until those distinctions blur entirely?
But the Big 12 fought for that perch in 2013-14. The league featured an impressive lineup, one that only the Big Ten rivaled. Realignment’s winds took more from the league (Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri) than they added (West Virginia) in recent years. Seven squads from the conference, however, earned invites to this year’s NCAA tournament, the ultimate barometer of a conference’s success. There are only 10 teams in the Big 12, so you can definitely call it college basketball’s pound-for-pound king this past season.
Few thrived, though. Iowa State and Baylor were the only Big 12 teams in the Sweet 16, and neither advanced beyond that stage. However, the 2013-14 campaign was still a strong one for the league, excluding its lukewarm results in the tournament. The latter shouldn’t be -- can’t be -- ignored in the final assessment of the conference, but it’ll be back in 2014-15.
The Big 12 hit the reset button. An influx of top recruits and transfers is coming, so next year might be even better.
What we saw this season: In 2004, the iPhone hadn’t been introduced to the public yet. Dwight Howard was an NBA rookie. And Georgia Tech -- yes, Georgia Tech -- lost to Connecticut in the national championship.
That was also the last time Bill Self failed to win a Big 12 title (the Jayhawks finished second) during his time at Kansas. It was his first season. His reign continued last season, when he led the Jayhawks to their 10th consecutive conference crown following a rocky nonconference season. Andrew Wiggins wasn’t LeBron James, but he didn’t have to be. The freshman’s numbers -- 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 1.2 steals per game -- were as remarkable as the poise he displayed while he dealt with intense scrutiny throughout the season. His team’s round of 32 loss to Stanford in the Big Dance was a stunner, but Embiid’s late-season back injury certainly affected the program.
DeAndre Kane was able to lead Iowa State to wins over opponents such as Michigan, Iowa, Baylor and Kansas. Melvin Ejim, however, was the league’s player of the year. Georges Niang's foot injury suffered during the NCAA tournament was an unfortunate development for the program, but Fred Hoiberg proved again that it’s possible to add new pieces each season and develop chemistry. His formula works.
Marcus Smart's most memorable matchup had nothing to do with basketball. That shoving incident in Lubbock, Texas, prompted a three-game suspension, the worst of a series of lows for Travis Ford’s team. Everything that could go wrong for Oklahoma State went wrong. Season-ending injuries. Arrests. Suspensions. But Smart and the Pokes recovered to make a run to the Big Dance. Baylor found similar magic late. Cory Jefferson and Co. started 2-8 in league play but finished with a furious push that ended in the Sweet 16.
Oklahoma and Texas had successful stretches, too. But neither could maintain that mojo. The Sooners and Longhorns, however, made the Big 12 gauntlet even tougher.
Tubby Smith couldn’t get Texas Tech out of the conference’s lower tier even after a 5-3 midseason spurt -- ultimately an anomaly -- that included wins over Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. West Virginia couldn’t find the quality wins necessary to be considered for an at-large slot on Selection Sunday, and a lopsided loss to Texas in the first round of the Big 12 tourney didn’t help. But the Mountaineers were the eighth Big 12 squad that finished in the RPI’s top 100.
Meanwhile, coach Trent Johnson has to be on the hot seat after TCU finished 0-18 in conference play.
Still, the Big 12 had a big season. Everything that preceded March suggested the league would have a solid showing in the Big Dance. That didn’t happen. And that took some of the luster off the regular season.
But it won’t be easy.
Hoiberg won’t stop. Niang will recover from the foot injury. Monte Morris, Dustin Hogue and Naz Long are back, too. Former Marquette recruit Jameel McKay will be eligible next season, and Hoiberg just landed former UNLV star Bryce Dejean-Jones. And there’s always a chance that he’ll add another top transfer before next season.
Oklahoma returns four standouts from last year’s NCAA tourney team. Losing Smart and Markel Brown hurts Oklahoma State, and Le'Bryan Nash could leave, too. But Phil Forte, Brian Williams, Kamari Murphy and Michael Cobbins (once healthy) will help the Cowboys compete for a berth in the tourney. A pair of ESPN 100 recruits (Joe Burton and Jared Terrell) will also be in the mix.
Kansas State youngster Marcus Foster will be the Big 12 player of the year in 2014-15. And overall, four of Kansas State’s top six scorers from last season will return next year.
Baylor is somewhat of a mystery. No great recruiting class. Jefferson, Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin were seniors, and Isaiah Austin is likely to enter the draft. So there will be a lot of pressure on Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale next season. How will they handle that?
There's good news in Morgantown. Bob Huggins didn’t have one senior on his roster last season. Juwan Staten (18.1 points per game) and Co. are talented enough to compete with Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma for the conference crown.
Texas will contend, too. Rick Barnes’ starters from last year, including underrated standout Jonathan Holmes, will return. And Jordan Barnett, ranked No. 86 in the 2014 class by RecruitingNation, will add more depth.
Texas Tech and TCU will have a hard time emerging from the basement in this tough field.
The Big 12 could end 2014-15 as the best conference in America. Again.
However, the only thing that increased was disappointment in the league’s overall showing.
Expanding to 15 teams did little to affect the ACC’s reach in the NCAA tournament. Six teams received bids -- and that likely would have been just five until NC State’s late push (including its upset of Syracuse in the ACC tournament).
North Carolina and Duke both failed to advance into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 1979. The Blue Devils were upset by Mercer in the second round. The Tar Heels lost to Iowa State in the third round. The ACC has long depended on the bluebloods to carry the league’s baton, and this season did little to change that narrative.
Only Virginia, which earned a No. 1 seed by winning the league title, advanced to the Sweet 16. The Cavaliers were then eliminated by Michigan State.
The league should improve next postseason thanks in part to Carolina's and Duke's potential to have powerhouse squads.
Freshmen Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) and Jabari Parker (Duke) proved to be not only among the best players in the conference, but in the nation -- regardless of class.
Many ACC teams had outstanding individual talents -- NC State’s T.J. Warren (won the league’s player of the year award), Duke’s Rodney Hood, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels to name a few -- but those teams were heavily flawed. Opponents who stopped Lamar Patterson essentially stopped Pittsburgh. Syracuse had trouble scoring. Duke had a thin frontcourt. Carolina was limited by its shooting from the perimeter.
Syracuse started the season strong -- winning its first 25 games -- but faded down the stretch losing six of its last nine games, as its offense went on hiatus. The Orange did provide two classics sure to be talked about in ACC lore. Their first meeting with Duke was a thrilling 91-89 overtime win in the Carrier Dome and their 66-60 loss at Duke featured Jim Boeheim’s first ejection in a regular-season game.
As has long been a problem since the league expanded to 12 teams, the ACC failed to develop a strong second tier of added depth. The conference continued to be top-heavy as Florida State, Maryland, Clemson and Notre Dame never quite became teams to fear.
Three of the bottom four teams in the standings played poorly enough to end the season with their coaches being fired. Boston College arguably had the most disappointing seasons of them all relative to its talent level. The Eagles pulled it together long enough to hand Syracuse its first loss, which was the highlight of their season.
What we expect to see next season: More of the nation’s top freshmen. Duke’s recruiting class is considered tops in the land and is led by center Jahlil Okafor, who is ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 100, and Tyus Jones, the No. 1 point guard who is fourth overall. North Carolina also snagged two top-10 recruits in Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson and is ranked third as a class by ESPN.com.
Newcomers are great and all, but let’s also appreciate what we won’t see in the ACC for the first time in its existence. Maryland, a charter member of the conference started in 1953, will begin competing in the Big Ten. Let’s pause to remember the good times.
Long enough? OK.
Louisville obviously doesn’t compare to the tradition Maryland had within the league, but it could be considered an upgrade otherwise. With three national titles and a Hall of Fame coach currently on its sideline, the Cardinals fit the league’s basketball pedigree.
Their addition, plus Virginia’s returning most of its ACC title squad, should help the league become closer to the juggernaut many of its coaches expected this past season.
For all the hand-wringing over a change of guard in the ACC, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels look primed to re-establish their stranglehold on the top of the league standings. Regardless of how Parker’s NBA draft decision falls on Wednesday, Duke will have a good blend of experience (Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson) and young talent (Okafor, Jones, Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen) at Mike Krzyzewski’s disposal.
Carolina returns the likely front-runner for preseason player of the year in Paige. Forward Brice Johnson and center Kennedy Meeks give the Heels an inside offensive scoring punch that will be hard to contain.
Because of those teams at the top, a trio of new coaches could face a harsh inaugural season in the league. Buzz Williams shocked many by leaving Marquette to take the reins at Virginia Tech, replacing James Johnson. Jim Christian (after a stint at Ohio) takes over Boston College, replacing Steve Donahue. And Danny Manning returns home to Tobacco Road to rebuild Wake Forest, replacing Jeff Bzdelik.
It could all add up and help the ACC live up to its own expectations as the best basketball conference in the nation.
In the most deliciously ironic coaching carousel ride in some time, the University of Tennessee, both fan base and athletic department, somehow managed to get what they no longer wanted and exactly what they deserved.
Cuonzo Martin, the man they treated like a bad case of the flu for three years, essentially put his thumb to his nose, wiggled his fingers and said, "Stuff it." He is off to the greener, more welcoming pastures of Cal while Tennessee is left with a bare cupboard, no coach and, worst of all, the coach it longed for now working down the SEC road at Auburn.
The Volunteers, apparently, would have been wise to look at the fine print when Martin said, upon removing himself from the Marquette search that, "Tennessee is where I want to be. That has never changed."
He made those remarks, after all, on April Fools' Day.
And now the joke is on Tennessee.
Or the joke is Tennessee. Take your pick. Both are applicable.
The school is now on its third basketball coach in four years, to partner with the four football coaches it’s hired in the past six seasons.
No one will argue that Tennessee is a plum job -- one currently unemployed coach called me within an hour of the opening to inquire about it -- but the administration and fan base are doing a helluva job turning Knoxville into a reality show.
This is now a place that has been jilted by both Lane Kiffin and Martin.
Except when Kiffin left, his players were furious.
When Martin hit the road, Jordan McRae took to social media: “Can’t treat people any kind of way and expect good in return,” he wrote.
No you cannot. Even in this weird, morally challenged world, the golden rule does still have some teeth. You can’t spend three years making a man feel like an unwanted interim coach and then, once he reaches the Sweet 16, expect him to return the warm and phony embrace.
Less than a month ago, 36,000 fans signed a petition to get rid of Martin and return Bruce Pearl to glory. Never mind the fact Martin spent his entire tenure trying to extricate the Vols from the NCAA crater that Pearl had dug them. Pearl was Pearl -- gregarious and fun, with an up-and-down style and he still lived in Knoxville.
In the days before the Sweet 16 game -- and after Pearl signed with Auburn -- came another petition. This one was aimed at getting Martin a raise, complete with an open apology for the first petition.
Prior to today's news conference, called after Martin already had left, Hart had given and offered Martin one measly raise -- $50,000 last year. That bumped Martin’s overall salary to $1.35 million, 11th in the 14-member SEC.
And then when the Vols thumped Mercer to go to the regional semifinal, there was Hart embracing Martin on the court.
Didn’t work for Judas.
Won’t work here.
Vols fans, no doubt, will say that Cal will fail and good riddance and that’s fine. Hell hath no fury like a fan base scorned.
And that’s OK, too.
But remove the anger and what you see is a coach who was far from an epic failure. He went 63-41 in his three seasons, finishing in the top five of the SEC in each season.
This despite the stain and strain of NCAA sanctions.
In a lot of places that would merit a raise, a contract extension and a heap of praise.
At Tennessee, it got Martin a heap of nothing. Impatient fans and lukewarm administrators never really gave Martin a chance -- Indiana fans, with a bit more basketball dog in the fight, gave Tom Crean a longer leash.
And now the Vols got what they stopped wanting and exactly what they deserved.
Dayton president Dan Curran, like many university presidents, has an impressive résumé.
"A sociologist by training, Dr. Curran spent 23 years in various administrative and faculty positions at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia," his extended biography on the university website reads. "He's a noted scholar in criminology, juvenile justice and social problems, with a deep interest in international issues."
In 2002, he received the Eternal Flame award, an international honor given for "exceptional contribution to the field of Holocaust education." He is a former Fulbright senior scholar with eight scholarly publications to his name, almost all of which have advanced the fight against social inequality.
At 11 p.m. on March 22, this man -- this hyper-successful baron of academia -- was crowd-surfing his way down Kiefaber Street in Dayton, Ohio. Thousands chanted his name: "Dan! Dan! Dan!" A couple of hours later, riot police would show up, fiberglass shields in tow, to put down the joyous rebellion.
What we saw this season: Only Dayton wasn't a Cinderella. The Flyers were, in fact, a solid but injury-bugged team in a surprisingly dynamic 2013-14 Atlantic 10 Conference -- one that housed two of the nation's 10 best defensive teams (Saint Louis, VCU), that saw George Washington and Saint Joe's rise to tournament prominence, that watched Derek Kellogg get UMass back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998, that had probably the best, or at least the most unlucky, 11-20 team in the country.
That team? George Mason. The Patriots had a pretty rough go in A-10 play: Including their season-ending A-10 tournament loss to Fordham, nine of George Mason's conference games were decided by two possessions or fewer, or in overtime. In one nine-game losing streak, the Patriots lost to Saint Joe's, UMass and Saint Louis by a combined 11 points.
That was a fair enough summary of the A-10 in general: You really never knew what to expect.
After a disappointing start to the nonconference slate, VCU fell off the national radar. But the Rams got better and better as the season wound along, their turnover-creation more and more potent, in time to finish 12-4 in the A-10. Saint Louis took the opposite tack. The Billikens were the league's steadily marching defensive monster -- they eventually earned the top-10 ranking their late coach Rick Majerus predicted they would -- until the final month of the season, when their defense softened just enough to expose the struggles on the offensive end. UMass also went the opposite direction: great (or maybe just better than expected) early, weak late.
In the end, it was Dayton that peaked in March. At their best, any of the A-10's top teams could have made a similar run. But the Flyers got right at the perfect time.
What we expect to see next season: One must be careful not to overrate a handful of single-elimination games in March. That is the gospel we preach every summer, even if we don't always live by it ourselves.
In other words: Dayton's Elite Eight run doesn't automatically make the Flyers the A-10 favorite next season. Vee Sanford and Devin Oliver, both seniors, are huge losses for the Flyers. But! Dyshawn Pierre and Jordan Sibert were the team's most dynamic players by the end of the season, and Archie Miller's deep roster was primarily composed of freshmen and sophomores. The Flyers could well compete for the A-10 title.
UMass looks solid moving forward, despite the loss of point guard Chaz Williams. Saint Joe's and George Washington likewise lose key seniors but have some reasonable hopes in coming seasons. Saint Louis looks destined to take a step back: The Billikens were all about their seniors and now are in that post-core rebuild-or-reload mode.
Meanwhile, here's a safe prediction: VCU will begin the season as the preseason favorite. The Rams lost a couple of old 2011 Final Four stalwarts (including Rob Brandenberg) to the sands of time, but Shaka Smart has everyone else (including Briante Weber and Treveon Graham) returning and his best recruiting class ever (including three top-100 prospects) on board. The Rams look like the deepest team in the A-10, which, given that high-pressure defensive style, is a terrifying thought indeed.
Four years ago, VCU had its mad dash deep into the tournament field. In 2014, the Rams bore the brunt of the upset, thanks to a last-second four-point play and a missed game winner in overtime. Meanwhile, Dayton -- which went 1-5 in January -- was one game away from the Final Four, with its president wafting atop a riot.
Such are the vagaries of March. Such was the state of the 2013-14 A-10. This might not be a "power" league, but it is almost always a lot of fun.
“What do you have planned for an encore?” I asked the American Athletic Conference senior associate commissioner.
As rookie years go, the American’s inaugural season ranks right up there with the Beatles. A creation born solely out of conference realignment, the league that seemed little more than the safe landing pad for teams that didn’t quite fit anywhere else, put four teams in the NCAA tournament.
Two lost in the first weekend.
One made it to the Sweet 16 and one won the whole thing, the first time that a member of a brand-new conference was crowned the national champion.
Oh, and the NIT runner-up is an American member, too.
The irony, of course, is really too delicious. The league formed only because a handful of schools had nowhere else to go and the program that now stands as the conference’s face -- UConn -- is a reluctant member at best. Yes, the American has been good to the Huskies, but fed a dose of sodium pentothal, administrators would admit they’d jump to safer harbors in a heartbeat were the phone to jingle.
What we saw this season: A top-heavy league that could play with anyone and a bottom-heavy league that could be forgotten by everyone. The American boasted a core of teams that would be the envy of any conference -- Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis, Cincinnati and Southern Methodist.
The first four, of course, don’t qualify as news-breaking.
The Cardinals, Huskies, Tigers and Bearcats have a long history of success to draw on, regardless of conference affiliation.
But maybe the best thing to come out of this season for the American was the emergence of SMU. The fast-tracked Larry Brown experiment turned the Mustangs into a hot ticket and a legit national threat.
Most expected Brown to turn things around in Dallas, but certainly no one anticipated the quick return on SMU’s investment. The Mustangs are exactly what this fledgling league needs.
Still the league suffered the price of being a newbie. When Selection Sunday came around, the American was penalized for both its lack of history and the bottom feeders that ruined the league’s overall impact.
SMU should have gotten into the field and did not. Louisville wasn’t a 4-seed and UConn, as it turns out, wasn’t exactly your typical 7-seed. Certainly you could chalk that up to some terrible overall seeding on behalf of the committee, but also there’s no denying the American suffered worse than most other “power conferences.”
Still, when all was said and done it didn’t turn out too badly for the conference.
The national championship trophy will reside in the new league’s office, and that’s a pretty good way to get things started.
What we expect to see next season: Change, some for the better and some not so much. Will anyone miss Rutgers? Uh, no. But losing Louisville will be a big blow. The Cardinals brought not only legitimacy (albeit temporary) to the league, but another viable opponent to boost the league’s strength of schedule and image.
That puts even more onus on the other core four of Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis and SMU to carry the league.
The Huskies and Mustangs likely will start in most folks' top 25 thanks to the return of Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels for UConn and the addition of Emmanuel Mudiay for the Mustangs.
But it’s not those four that the conference has to worry about. It’s everyone else. In order for this league to be viable long-term, it needs other teams from the netherworlds of the basement to get better.
Houston might be the best bet for the immediate future. Hiring Kelvin Sampson has the potential for the same invigoration as bringing Brown to SMU. Sampson, let’s not be confused, is not the coach that Brown is, but his name has some cachet and with a hot recruiting bed in Houston to choose from, he could be the shot in the arm the program needs.
In Louisville’s place, the American adds Tulane, East Carolina and Tulsa. Only one of those -- Tulsa -- was in this year’s tournament field and the Golden Hurricane lost head coach Danny Manning to Wake Forest. The rest don’t exactly have a long history of success to count on.
Connecticut, Memphis and Cincinnati will always be in the national conversation, but in order for the American to be a viable threat and not just a one-hit wonder going forward, it needs other teams to be equally reliable.
That’s what this next season will be about.
Player unions and paying players are issues that touch all of college athletics, including basketball, and they will continue to be talked about during the summer. The 2014-15 season won't be a time to usher in rule changes, like this past season's emphasis on freedom of movement. But here are a few things to keep in mind as college hoops begins its offseason:
Coaching moves: With Boston College hiring Jim Christian and Wake Forest selecting Danny Manning, California remains the lone major conference school with an opening. That means filling it (Xavier’s Chris Mack is reportedly the lead candidate) would potentially make for only a small ripple effect in the offseason. Then again, keep in mind that last year Brad Stevens didn’t leave Butler for the Boston Celtics until July. So until NBA jobs are filled, college coaches like Kentucky’s John Calipari, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg and even Connecticut’s newly crowned national champion Kevin Ollie could appear on the short list of candidates to fill those slots. Shortly after the national championship game, Calipari issued denials that he’s interested in the Los Angeles Lakers. But nothing can stop the rumor mill until the hiring and firing is completed, and that could go into the summer.
Transfer status: Maybe the blame belongs on the high school and AAU culture, where players jump around until they find a good fit. Or maybe kids have just wised up and realized that rather than ride the bench for four years, some coach at some school will value them more. Regardless of how it got to this point, the smoldering over transfers has been growing among coaches to the point that it’s about to be a fire. Some even feel that the rules are being outright exploited. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim lamented during ACC media days last October about the transfer who leaves a school due to a sick family member, but then never sees the family after the transfer is completed. Some players have followed the model set forth by coaches themselves by playing for a lower-level school long enough to make a name and then transferring to a bigger stage. Toss in the graduate student waiver, and the culture of transfers seems like the college equivalent of free agency. Until the rules are changed, there are plenty of good players available. Over the next two months players will find new homes, and fan bases will find new reasons to be hopeful about their futures.
Silver lining: The earliest either side can opt out of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement isn’t until June 2017, so any talk about increasing the league’s age limit is just talk. For now. But as one-and-done players trickle into the league each year -- there could be about 10 taken in the first round of this year’s draft -- the discussion perks up again. It’s an issue that is gaining momentum from the highest office in the NBA. New commissioner Adam Silver has made it known that he supports raising the age limit from 19 to 20. On Thursday he told ESPN.com that he’d also consider providing a subsidy to college players that would include a complete insurance plan. At the very least, Silver has indicated that he’s open to dialogue with the NCAA and the NBA players’ union. And that is a start in bringing a little more stability to the college game.
Getty Images, AP PhotoCoaches didn't always agree with referees interpreting block-charge calls differently.
Referees were instructed to interpret block-charge calls differently, while cracking down on defensive hand-checking. The theory went that this would help increase scoring after a season that saw the lowest nation-wide scoring average since 1981-82.
So how did it work out?
Scoring up, possessions down
Scoring increased by more than five percent this season compared to last, despite the fact that teams averaged about one fewer possession per game.
One of the reasons for the rise in scoring could be the increased trips to the charity stripe.
Free throw attempts per game increased by nearly 14 percent this season compared to last.
Overall the percentage of points from field goals decreased by 2.3 percentage points compared to last season, while scoring from free throws increased by nearly nine percentage points.
The NCAA Tournament was a bit different, however. Scoring during the tournament was down by more than six percent compared to November and December of this season.
During the tournament, teams averaged 3.5 fewer free throw attempts per game than during the first two months of the season.
But when comparing this season's NCAA Tournament to last year, the trend was consistent with the regular season.
Scoring during the tournament this season was up nearly four percent compared to last season. Again, this occurred despite the fact that teams averaged more than two fewer possessions per game.
Turns out, the game survived and the new rules mostly did what they intended.
Adams, along with Rick Byrd, chairman of the rules committee, and a handful of coaches and administrators met with members of the media on Monday at the Final Four to not only discuss the impact of the new rules but discuss what other changes need to be made.
It was a conversation more than a presentation, an open dialogue about the state of the game and ways it could be improved.
Plenty of ideas were discussed but the three everyone agreed needed to be addressed -- the freedom of movement for cutters without the ball, post play and the torturously long end of games.
“We’re not done,” said Art Hyland, basketball secretary rules editor said.
The question isn’t really what needs to be done, but how to do it. Some of it is simple -- allowing cutters to roam without impediment and stop penalizing post players with a foul when a perimeter guy merely leans in to draw a call.
“You know you’re going to get something if you jump into a guy,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, the previous rules committee chairman.
“It’s very difficult to defend if you can’t do it the right way,” Byrd added.
But the end game problem, for example, is trickier.
This isn’t a rules change year for the committee. Instead they’ll use this time to discuss a laundry list of changes and see which, if any, they’d like to implement.
On the agenda for discussion:
Reducing the number of timeouts allotted to each team in a game; widening the lane; limiting a coach’s ability to call a timeout in a live ball situation; allowing 10 seconds total in a backcourt situation rather than a new 10 seconds after an out of bounds play; reducing the shot clock; considering the NBA continuation; eliminating the de facto timeout that ensues after a player fouls out; and not allowing a player to score when a charge has been called.
No one expects consensus on any of the topics -- “Modern coaches want control over everything they can have control over,” Byrd admitted -- but the committee said it was steadfast in making changes that it believes would help the game.
The most controversial -- like reducing the shot clock -- will no doubt be the hardest to sell, but Hyland remembered when coaches also were reluctant to add a 3-point line and any shot clock at all.
“I think it’s time to really consider 30,” Brey said. “If it went to 24, they’d burn the castle down.”
Of course they wanted to burn the castle down at the beginning of this season when the freedom of movement rules came into effect, too.
Turns out, it wasn’t so bad.
As the year wore on, the complaints decreased and the scoring did, in fact, go up -- 2.7 points per game per team in the NCAA tournament (or 4.2 percent). Field goal percentage also improved, from 42.3 percent to 44.3 percent.
“As the season went on, I felt like the officiating matched up with the coaches’ expectations,” Adams said. “The more games, the less time there was complaining about the rules.”
Connecticut’s national title as a No. 7 seed provided the conclusive evidence of what we knew early on in the 2013-14 men’s college basketball season. There was no dominant team. Arizona settled down the revolving door of No. 1 teams -- the Wildcats were the third to hold the mantle just six weeks into the polls, and their eight weeks atop the Associated Press poll was the longest of the five teams (Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse, Florida) to be ranked No. 1. With the odds of winning the Billion Dollar Bracket already outrageous, parity in college basketball made it downright impossible.
With the book finally written on the season, here are the chapters we’ll remember most:
Freedom of movement: Officials were quick to say this season they weren’t creating new rules, they were enforcing the old ones. College basketball had become too defensive, the critics said. Physical play was ruining the game. The season started with an emphasis on allowing freedom of movement and handchecking was called to the point of being a “touch foul.” Players, coaches and officials alike never came to a consensus of understanding how a block/charge would be called. While scoring on the whole increased slightly, there was no denying that foul calls and free throws had a substantial spike.
Champions Classic: Teams were allowed to begin practice two weeks before the traditional Oct. 15 start date, which in a practical sense meant earlier than ever. It resulted in a November filled with high-quality games beginning with a special night in Chicago. The Champions Classic doubleheader featured Michigan State’s win over Kentucky and Kansas beating Duke and ushered in the season with big-name matchups with budding superstars to get college hoops buzzing even in the midst of the BCS race and the NFL, the overlord of American sports, in the middle of its season.
Senior spotlight: Plenty of seniors weren’t going to let the young guys hog all the spotlight and reminded us of the value of staying four years. No way UConn’s Shabazz Napier was mature enough in his previous three seasons to lead a team to the national title the way he did this season. Creighton’s Doug McDermott returned to school -- as a walk-on no less -- and finished as the fifth leading scorer in Division I history. He was also the first player since Wayman Tisdale (1983-85) and just the sixth ever to have three consecutive seasons scoring 800 points or more. Louisville’s Russ Smith returned and ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency by kenpom.com for a second straight season.
Conference realignment: With the dust finally settled (we think), and teams shuffled into new leagues, we saw the good and the bad from the new configurations. A record crowd of 35,000-plus at the Carrier Dome watched Syracuse’s 91-89 overtime win against Duke become an instant classic in their first meeting as ACC foes. The future of ACC basketball, which adds Louisville next season, is partly why Maryland’s season-long swan song as a former ACC charter member was overshadowed. Creighton excelled in its new locale, finishing second in the new Big East, even though its move from the Missouri Valley hurt Wichita State. (More on that below.) The brand-spanking new American Athletic Conference truly reflected the nation with its huge disparity between the haves at the top of the league and the have-nots at the bottom. In the end, the national championship trophy resides in the rookie league.
Shockers chase perfection: Wichita State became the first team since St. Joseph’s in 2004 to finish the regular season undefeated. Instead of drawing praise, it drew some skepticism from those who pointed to a weakened Missouri Valley schedule. Still the Shockers plugged along reaching 35-0 -- one game better than the 1990-91 UNLV squad that went 34-1 and lost to Duke in the Final Four -- and grabbing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their season ended against eventual national runners-up and 8-seed Kentucky in the round of 32.
Coaches behaving badly: The season provided Internet trolls a seemingly endless supply of memes and GIFs to loop. The list was long, including Iowa’s Fran McCaffery slamming chairs against Michigan State, Nebraska’s Tim Miles ending the Cornhuskers’ most memorable season in decades with an NCAA tournament ejection and Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson’s postgame rant that included that his wife, not his players, knows to, “at least shot-fake one time.” But a few stand out. Who can forget the sight of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim nearly losing his jacket while running on the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor to protest a charge with 10 seconds left in a loss at Duke? Boeheim joked after the game that his first trip to Tobacco Road, which resulted in his first regular-season ejection, would be a memorable one. Then there was Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (insert sarcasm font here) who will certainly think twice before throwing a pen toward his bench. Krzyzewski got a technical foul for doing so in the ACC tournament final against Virginia.
Safety issues: There were the things out of man’s control like the postponement of Iowa’s game at Indiana due to a pane of the ceiling crashing into the stands. North Carolina and Duke postponed their first meeting when a snow storm left the Blue Devils’ bus unable to safely travel eight miles to Chapel Hill. It was the Tar Heels’ first postponed game since the Gulf War. Court storming continued to be a topic when a fight broke out at the end of Utah Valley’s win over New Mexico State. The incident started when an agitated K.C. Ross-Miller of NMSU hurled the ball at Holton Hunsaker as time expired. Two Aggies were suspended for their roles in the altercation. Thankfully no one was hurt when an alcohol-fused adrenaline rush sent a UC-Santa Barbara student running onto the court during the first half of a game against Hawaii; the fan got close enough to confront Hawaii coach Gib Arnold before players pushed him away and he was escorted out.
Those were the top highlights from the season. Just missing the cut were: how teams turned around their seasons (including Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee); the impact of transfers (from the spectacular, including Duke’s Rodney Hood; to the cautionary, including Georgetown’s Josh Smith); the Carolina blues (potential All-American P.J. Hairston sat out the first nine games before the school announced it would not seek his reinstatement); and basketball as an emotional outlet (cellar dweller Boston College handed Syracuse its first loss after the passing of longtime BC media relations director Dick Kelley, and Georgia coach Mike Fox winning at Missouri after attending his father’s memorial service).
Another NCAA tournament is in the books, and before we get too sad over saying goodbye to college basketball for six months, let's review what we just witnessed:
One player can carry a team: It's particularly true if that player happens to be a guard. UConn's Shabazz Napier proved that point -- like Kemba Walker before him -- by leading the Huskies to the national championship.
One player can't carry a team: Particularly if his team relies on outscoring its opponents. For all the scoring records Creighton's Doug McDermott broke, the Blue Jays defense was ultimately picked apart by Baylor, and one of the great college basketball careers of the past decade ended in the first weekend of the tournament.
Freshmen can carry a team: Kentucky was only the second team to start five freshmen in the title game. After many stumbles during the regular season, the youthful Wildcats put it together at the right time.
Seeding is an inexact science: Louisville as a 4? Kentucky as an 8? The selection committee’s favorite phrase is "whole body of work," which is understandable, but it doesn’t take into account a team that's playing its best late, such as the Cardinals; or a team clearly better than its record, such as the Wildcats.
Brackets aren't fair, but such is life: The biggest example was having No. 1 seed Wichita State pitted against No. 8 Kentucky in the round of 32. The game had an Elite Eight feel for a reason -- it probably should have been played in the later rounds.
A 12-seed beating a 5-seed is no longer an upset: The 12-seeds nearly -- and probably should have -- completed a full sweep of the 5-seeds. No. 12 seeds Harvard, Steven F. Austin and North Dakota State all advanced and North Carolina State was positioned to join them but missed 9 of 17 free throws before blowing a late eight-point lead to Saint Louis. It was the second game in three days for the Wolfpack, who had to play their way in by beating Xavier.
The 16-seeds are getting closer (incrementally, maybe, but closer): For those counting, the No. 1 seed is 120-0 against No. 16 seeds, but the gap is closing. Coastal Carolina led Virginia by 10 in the first half and by five at halftime before losing. Albany and Weber State also gave Florida and Arizona tougher than expected games.
Four-point plays do exist: And for Stephen F. Austin it happened at the best possible moment. Desmond Haymon drew a foul on VCU's JeQuan Lewis and his four-point play tied the score with three seconds left in regulation before the Lumberjacks won in overtime.
Big shots: Whether true buzzer-beaters such as Cameron Ridley's putback in Texas' win over Arizona State or simply big shots in closing seconds such as North Dakota State's Lawrence Alexander forcing overtime against Oklahoma with a 3-pointer, we love seeing a game-changer. Kentucky's Aaron Harrison made the most of his big shots, taking down Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin in the process.
Shots not fired: With 2.3 seconds left, Arizona's Nick Johnson took one dribble too many and failed to get a shot off before time expired. The Wildcats' loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight proved the shot that's not taken hurts most.
Check the monitor (Shots not fired Part II): Then again, it might hurt more to lose the game after an officials' conference. Officials didn't see North Carolina coach Roy Williams signaling for a timeout with 1.6 seconds left immediately after Iowa State's DeAndre Kane scored the go-ahead basket. The ball was inbounded but the clock operator started it late, allowing Carolina a timeout after the ball was advanced to half court. The officials checked the monitor, huddled and determined that time had expired before the timeout was granted.
We still never figured out the block/charge call: It didn’t outright decide the outcome of any game, but it came close. Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes was called for a charge with six seconds left in a one-point game. Michigan's Jordan Morgan sold the call and the Wolverines advanced.
Conferences might want to rethink who earns the automatic bid: Milwaukee had a losing record in the Horizon, yet beat regular-season champ Green Bay in the league tournament en route to earning their NCAA bid. Cal Poly had a losing record overall and finished tied for sixth in the Big West, yet earned the bid and beat Texas Southern before getting pummeled by Wichita State. Mount St. Mary's also had a losing record overall before winning the Northeast tournament title. All those upsets, of course, led to NCAA tournament seeds.
Seniors matter: Obviously the shining example was Napier carrying UConn to the title and Florida reaching the Final Four by starting four seniors. But the common thread in nearly every early-round upset was that schools such as North Dakota State, which had five seniors in its rotation, and Mercer, which had seven seniors, played a lot of experienced players.
Conference affiliation doesn't: The Big 12 had the most teams in the tournament with seven, but they flamed early. Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma lost their first games, only Baylor and Iowa State made it to the Sweet 16.
Michigan State starting over: One of the best streaks came to an end this season when the Spartans lost to UConn. Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are the first players who stayed four years under coach Tom Izzo but did not play in a Final Four.
Pay more attention to the Atlantic Sun: From the conference that gave us Florida Gulf Coast last season, Mercer came out of the league this year. The Bears beat Duke in a game they were positively poised and confident they would win.
THE University of Dayton made a statement: A headline in the Dayton Daily News poked a little fun at Ohio State, but the way the Flyers were embraced after beating the Buckeyes, Syracuse and Stanford showed just how much March can unite a community.
Kevin Canevari can dance: Moments after Mercer topped Duke in the tournament’s biggest upset, Canevari provided arguably the tournament’s best celebration dance by doing the Nae Nae in front of the Bears' fan section.
Grudges last: Napier blasted the NCAA for keeping the Huskies out of the tournament last season because of their APR. That means SMU, which beat UConn twice, is on the clock for next season with some hard feelings of its own. The Mustangs missed the NCAA tournament and finished runners-up in the NIT. With most of their starters back, and adding arguably the best point guard from the 2014 recruiting class, Larry Brown's crew will be a force next season.