Commentary

The Hype Machine: Believe it or not?

Originally Published: January 4, 2012
By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com

The Hype Machine lives in Minnesota, where the temps reached the mid-teens this week. Not good for the gears.

But just as the temps dropped, the college basketball scene heated up with the commencement of conference play. Didn't take long for hype to reign in various leagues.

There were some shocking upsets in some noteworthy venues. Proof that arenas and atmospheres are overrated?

Another standout athlete considered making a midseason switch. That's about as surprising as a Kardashian reality-show marathon on E!

And finally, a top-10 squad with limited size in a beefy conference just lost another post player. There goes its shot at the league title, right?

[+] EnlargeKohl Center
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin's Kohl Center aura was developed with winning. And that's no myth.

The Past: Recent upsets dispel myths about home venues

BELIEVE THE HYPE:

"There's so many teams that are kind of equal, and if you have a cold night you're not going to walk away on the left-hand side. Defensively, we had some breakdowns, but I think a lot of that was caused by what we weren't able to do on the offensive end." -- Bo Ryan told the Journal Sentinel after Wisconsin's 72-65 loss to Iowa in Madison on Saturday.

So Iowa wins at the Kohl Center. Pitt can't score in the home arena that's been the site of an impressive winning streak against nonconference opponents prior to this season. But Indiana is surging and making Assembly Hall feel like it did in the program's glory years.

So how important is the building/arena in a team's struggles and/or failures?

When college basketball fans talk about their favorite venues, they use words that rarely enter their normal lexicon. Ask a devoted fan about his or her favorite squad's home arena, and he or she will probably use words such as "mystique" or "ambiance" or "charm." People love their beloved team's arenas and some believe they have the power to sway outcomes. But those facilities get far too much credit.

Perhaps I'm somewhat biased on the issue because I used to cover a Minnesota squad with a fan base that wouldn't discuss the future of its antiquated home venue, The Barn, based on nostalgia. The Gophers haven't lit up that building in nearly 20 years.

The Kohl Center's aura was developed with winning. But Wisconsin won't beat most opponents if it makes just 11 percent of its 3s (3-for-28) the way it did in Saturday's loss to Iowa, which was followed up with another home setback to Michigan State on Tuesday, 63-60 in overtime.

Pitt had won 58 consecutive nonconference games at home, a streak that started in 2005, before Long Beach State pulled off an upset in November. Did the Petersen Events Center lose its mojo or did a struggling Pitt squad simply lose to a veteran Big West team that was due for a signature victory?

Assembly Hall is rocking again because Tom Crean's program is authoring one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent seasons. That's the same building that hosted a Hoosiers team that finished 3-6 in Big Ten home games in 2010-11. The band, the cheerleaders, the fans and the arena are the same. The product on the floor, however, has changed. And that's what matters most.

Yes, it's tough to play on the road and a number of sites throughout college basketball have special vibes, especially when good things are happening. But the "character" of the building is usually tied directly to success on the floor.

The Present: The NCAA should change transfer rules

DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE:

In a 1½-hour meeting with Memphis coach Josh Pastner late Sunday afternoon, sophomore guard Joe Jackson apparently said enough to convince Pastner that he's firmly committed to the team and ready to return after sitting out Saturday's home win against Charlotte. "Joe Jackson has both feet in. My rule, being part of the team, you've gotta have both feet in. It can't be one in, one out." -- Pastner told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Jackson missed the weekend matchup against Charlotte while he -- according to an AAU coach -- seriously thought about leaving the program. Upon his return, Jackson dismissed the idea that he nearly left the Tigers, but Pastner's reaction to his return suggested that the sophomore had a "commitment" issue.

He's not alone.

From Oregon's Jabari Brown to Pitt's Khem Birch, players all over the country have taken full advantage of their flexibility and left their former schools at midseason. It's a frustrating predicament for coaches, some of whom desire reform so that players can't leave so easily in the future.

"Transferring is now becoming a very common avenue for players across the NCAA," said New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies, in a statement on the team's website, after standout sophomore Christian Kabongo left the program over the weekend. "The incredible number of midseason transfers around the country this year is an indication of that. I feel great about the remaining players in the program and their abilities to continue towards our goals."

Menzies' disappointment is understandable, but players deserve the freedom to move. And the NCAA shouldn't adjust transfer rules that already penalize transferring players by forcing them to sit out a year.

Coaches who leave programs for other jobs mid-contract -- coaches with the power to refuse a player's request to be released from his scholarship -- don't have to miss a season when they take a new gig. If coaches can leave whenever they believe they have a better opportunity elsewhere, then players should have the same right.

It's a major issue in college basketball. But changing rules to bolster loyalty should start with coaches, not twenty-something college athletes who recognize "program loyalty" for the farce that it is.

[+] EnlargeRicardo Ratliffe
Dak Dillon/US PresswireThe efficiency of post player Ricardo Ratliffe has made Missouri's lack of size less of a concern.

The Future: Ricardo Ratliffe will be the most important player in the Big 12 title race

BELIEVE THE HYPE:

Missouri says forward Kadeem Green plans to transfer closer to home. The 6-foot-8 Green averaged 10.5 minutes in 11 games for the Tigers (14-0), who are off to their best start since the 1981-82 season. The redshirt freshman, who is from Toronto, missed last season while he recovered from a torn Achilles tendon sustained during his high school career at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, N.C. Missouri (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 7 AP) now has only seven players on scholarship, with only Ratliffe and Steve Moore taller than 6-6. Kim English, a 6-6 shooting guard, has transitioned to forward to provide some necessary depth. (The Associated Press)

Missouri got even smaller Tuesday when Green, a reserve forward, decided to leave the program. The Tigers have been undersized all season, but in a rugged league stocked with talented bigs, the Green news just re-emphasizes the significance of the 6-8 Ratliffe.

Thomas Robinson, Perry Jones III and Marcus Denmon are the league's top POY candidates. But Ratliffe is the league's most important player.

The preseason ACL injury of Laurence Bowers was a significant blow to Missouri's interior depth. Ratliffe, however, really filled the void, and he's emerged as one of the league's top bigs. But like Florida, Xavier and Marquette, the Tigers can't afford to lose their lone star in the middle. They just don't have the depth or the size to withstand that blow.

So Ratliffe, who was averaging 14.2 ppg and 7.2 rpg while shooting 77 percent from the field, is the key to Missouri's Big 12 title hopes. With him in the lineup, the Tigers have held their own against bigger squads.

But they've also been vulnerable against skillful big men. Illinois' Meyers Leonard recently recorded 14 points and 13 rebounds against Missouri. And Robinson, Jones, Royce White, Ray Turner and Jamar Samuels will pose challenges, too, in Big 12 competition.

So the Tigers need Ratliffe more than any other Big 12/national title contender needs its top post player.

The Hoopla: Seton Hall's win Tuesday over UConn is more proof that Syracuse (a team that beat the Pirates by 26 points) has separated itself from the rest of the Big East (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … New Mexico has turned the Mountain West into a three-team race along with UNLV and San Diego State (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … The Jackson drama will be Memphis' last distraction of the season (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE). … Iowa State will pull off a handful of upsets in Big 12 play (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … Kentucky's three-point halftime deficit against Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday should raise red flags about the Wildcats (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE). … Virginia's 57-50 win, one filled with struggles, against winless Towson last week should raise red flags about the Cavs (BELIEVE THE HYPE).

Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mmedcalf3030@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN