- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back. (If that Mase song didn't start ringing in your ears, I don't think we can be friends.) On each Wednesday of last season, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) responded to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this space. For lack of a more creative name, it was called the Hoopsbag. It makes a glorious return today.
Eamonn Brennan: This is an excellent question. Before we answer, let's set up some parameters: I'm going to assume every team in every major conference is available to be poached by my two super-leagues. I'm also going to assume football has nothing to do with realignment. (I know, I know: use your imagination.) Beyond that, let's be somewhat realistic: My two super-leagues are looking for storied programs with large fan bases that are financially attractive now and will be for the foreseeable long-term future.
Since we only have two, let's divide them geographically. One is EB West. The other is EB East. (Hey, it's still better than Legends and Leaders.)
Basketball's a bit down out West these days. So I'll admit it: Filling out a 16-team league comprised of teams west of the Mississippi was difficult. Ensuring it wasn't totally imbalanced with EB East was downright daunting. So I took a few geographic liberties. Hey, these programs all charter their planes anyway, right?
Here's what I came up with:
North Carolina Tar Heels
Duke Blue Devils
Ohio State Buckeyes
Michigan State Spartans
San Diego State Aztecs
"Out There" Division
Illinois Fighting Illini
Marquette Golden Eagles
New Mexico Lobos
As you can see, EB West looks like the far less-loaded conference for two reasons: One, EB East is just stacked, and two, a few of the programs I raided from the Pac-12 are in rebuilding mode. But those markets are still viable, and my fake superconference commissioner is willing to risk that those teams collectively improve in the next few seasons. The current configuration is designed to cover large swaths of the country's major markets while preserving some semblance of traditional rivalries.
Either way, this was really hard. It probably deserves a whole column, or at least a blog post, and I'm sure there are plenty of fans who think I wrongly omitted their program. So, readers, what would you have done differently?
Harry Baujun in Chicago writes: Has any first year coach done more with his squad in a shorter amount of time than Dayton coach Archie Miller? After losing two of last year's top freshmen in Juwan Staten and Brandon Spearman to transfers, Kid Yuma signed former Providence commit, Alex Gavrilovic, brought in transfers from Georgetown (Vee Sanford) and LSU (Matt Derebecker) and as of yesterday landed former St. John's commit, Jevon Thomas.
Brennan: I think you could argue that Miller's brother, Arizona coach Sean Miller, resurrected a program as fast as anyone in the country. Also, let's not forget what John Calipari did in his very first season at Kentucky. That was basically a mediocre-to-awesome land speed record.
One under-the-radar candidate here? Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg's recruiting hasn't been off the charts, but his ability to score so many impact transfers (Royce White, Chris Allen, Korie Lucious and so on) in one season put the Cyclones in a position to improve mightily in his second year. Given where this program has been for the past decade, that's quite a feat.
Ross in Youngsville, N.Y. writes: I am a huge Gonzaga Bulldogs fan, and I have heard a ton of good things about incoming freshman Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos. I think the last really good floor general the Bulldogs had was Derek Raivio in the sense that he knew how to run the offense and was also a threat offensively. I loved Jeremy Pargo, but he dominated the ball at times. Meech Goodson was good, but he never took any great leaps while he was with the program. Could either of these guys be the answer at point, and what can we reasonably expect from them this year?
Brennan: I've heard the most promising news about Kevin Pangos. When Gonzaga landed Pangos in fall 2010, the Canadian prospect was essentially unscouted and unrecruited. But he put up big numbers at the 2010 FIBA U-17 World Championships and was a member of the all-tournament team alongside top recruits like UNC's James Michael McAdoo and Florida's Bradley Beal. Since then, our recruiting analysts have deemed him a four-star prospect and ranked him No. 19 at his position in the 2011 class. It's always hard to hand over a veteran-led offense to a freshman point guard, but it appears Pangos has the chops to handle the job.
Jeff Miller from Bloomington, Ind. writes: Is it realistic to say that the Indiana Hoosiers have a 50/50 chance to make it to the NCAA Tourney this year? Tom Crean has done a heck of a job recruiting, but will that show up this year?
Brennan: I think 50/50 is fair. The addition of Cody Zeller is the biggest one Crean has made in his Indiana career, bar none, and it's one that should make the rest of the team better by osmosis. Forward Tom Pritchard won't be as overmatched under the rim; talented small forward Christian Watford will actually get a chance to play his natural position. A lot will depend on whether the Hoosiers can significantly improve on defense. Zeller should help in that regard, too, but the rest of the team, especially the frontcourt, has to find a way to pressure defenders without fouling if Indiana wants to surprise some people and get back to the NCAA tournament a year ahead of schedule.
Grant Senter from San Antonio writes: Baylor currently has both of its basketball programs in the top 15 in the NCAA. The women's basketball program boasts the best player in game along with a plethora of Final Four runs and an NCAA championship. And how could we forget a men's program that has made one of the best comebacks in history back to the national stage? Baylor has the players now to make Adidas and Nike drool over future endorsement deals once they become pro. Why no mention in basketball circles in conference realignment?
Brennan: Unfortunately, that's not how realignment works. Conference realignment is about football. It is only ever about football. Men's basketball doesn't factor in, and women's basketball couldn't be further off the radar. You might as well cite a school's track and field accomplishments. Nice, sure, but as realignment goes, no one cares.
Baylor's is getting better at football but is historically mediocre in a state drenched with Texas and Texas A&M supporters. As such, its services are not in high demand. And no, having top recruits that may or may not sign endorsement deals with shoe companies after they leave school doesn't factor into football TV rights demand at all. If anything hoops-related was a realignment criterion, Kansas would be in the discussion. It's not. And neither is Baylor.
Scott from New York writes: Reading "How did the ACC get to its current state?" I'm not sure how you could do such an analysis and not mention football. The ACC's persuit of college football money has been at the peril of basketball. They took on BC, despite it making no geographic sense since the ACC is a southern conference and the Big East is a northeast conference. I'm sure that's helped BC's recruiting -- "yes, every conference away game will be 15 hours away." Then they took on Miami, who has never been good at basketball. Meanwhile teams like Maryland and FSU have only focused more on football. The American obsession with college football -- which a lot of us in the northeast don't understand since we don't have any college football powerhouses -- has hurt ACC basketball. Luckily, that's good for this UConn fan who's always thought little of the ACC.
Brett Ayers from Chapel Hill, N.C. writes: The ACC's issue is as much about the quality of the coaches as it is anything else. Tenure has little to do with it. Why has Butler, of all programs, being able to do what it has done with the same budget as what UNC spends on basketballs and shoes. The bottom line, as it is with most traditional powers and or leagues that have been strong in the past is the coaching has really gone down the tubes. It does not take a lot to recruit to the ACC unless you simply don't have a pulse.
Brennan: Two good perspectives on my and Dana's posts on the ACC's recent struggles. It's funny: We published those on Sept. 15. A few days later, Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced they were leaving the Big East and joining the ACC. From then on, the point seemed moot.
I would argue that coaching skill is deeply tied with coaching tenure. Typically, coaches don't get fired unless they lose. It's a vicious cycle. And I agree with Scott, too: Whether pre-existing programs are diverting funds to football or just spending more time caring about it, the ACC's pursuit of football money has at the very least watered down the league since its first expansion in 2003.
Todd in Versailles, Ky., writes: Eamonn, thanks for the entry about Big Blue Madness. Seventy-five percent of Kentucky fans are passionate and rational. Twenty percent are passionate and completely irrational. We treat them like that crazy uncle that you love, but just shake your head at. The other five percent are the nutjobs that make the other 95 percent look bad. I'm guessing that you've received several emails from that segment. For that, we apologize. Keep up the good work.
Brennan: You're welcome! I don't mean to pick on Kentucky fans in particular -- every fan base has its crazies, and every fan base takes umbrage when you write something they can perceive as even remotely negative. College sports fans are particularly provincial, and they seem to be constantly hunting for biases. It happens everywhere.
That said, no one circles the comment-thread wagons quite like Big Blue Nation. I may not always like the comments, but I can't deny the passion. Who could?
See, this is what the first Hoopsbag of the 2011-12 season should be about. Bridges mended; olive branches accepted. Let's keep up the positivity, shall we?
Patrick Wick in Dillon, Co. writes: Keep being negative about KU, go ahead. Eventually, you'll be eating your words. Rock Chalk Jayhawk GO KU!!!!!!!!
Brennan: This was the second question in the mailbag this morning. Sigh. It was fun while it lasted.