Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Return of Conference Roulette

It was reported today the Big 14 was on the verge of an agreement with Fox Sports to move half its games to Fox Sports. Initial estimation was a windfall of around $40 million for program, counting all the other television rights deals.

This segues into something I hinted during the Final Four, the future of college sports was about to radically change. I came across a Twitter feed @mhver3 who has slowly been tweeting about possible league expansion, primarily the Big XII and Big 14 at the expense of the ACC.

Whether he has legitimate sourcing or not, I won't or can't say and what I write here is all conjecture on my part but his overall points are spot on and sensible if we follow the money.

What follows is a best guess look at what the landscape may look like in a few years.

First, the ACC and Big XII fall well behind the SEC and now especially, the Big 14 in media revenue. The ACC has no cable outlet other than ESPN and the Big XII has television deals with Fox and ESPN but no network dedicated to the league. They do have an elephant in the room and that's Texas and the Longhorn Network. 

If we dive further into the Big XII, they need and want to get to 12 schools. Though Oklahoma made the college football playoff this past year, most believe they need a conference title game going forward to give them a better chance at continually making the playoff. If they wait until playoff expansion, they'd probably be fine in this regard but it seems unlikely they'll wait.

Oklahoma President David Boren has been a vocal proponent of expansion and beat guess is, if it doesn't happen, Oklahoma bolts. If Oklahoma bolts, the Big XII will be ripe for picking. Oklahoma would be wildly attractive for all other leagues. I'd guess the Big XII expands this summer with Cincinnati a logical target. Though BYU probably a better choice, adding a UConn theoretically opens the NY market. We'll revisit BYU later.

If expansion happens, the next domino to fall would be getting a conference tv deal. This requires the LHN to transition into the Big XII network. Texas can fight but runs the risk of chasing for a league and accepting that leagues tv deals. They have leverage here but it seems prudent they agree to this and can still be financially rewarded. Having a tv network ready to transition is a big deal for the Big XII. ESPN can continue to support this. It should also be noted the league and yeh SEC are tied into the Sugar Bowl with ESPN. ESPN has a vested interest in the Big XII succeeding. Just for a bowl game? Yup, ESPN owns most of them and they're spending big money on the college playoffs.

Let's say this happens. The league most likely to disappear will be the ACC and the ramifications are many. You must ignore history when we think about this. Tobacco Road and basketball have that powerful history. What it doesn't have is a tv network. ESPN pays them well and though each member institution signed a grant of rights making it expensive to leave, it's believed that can be broken without the creation of a league network. It's believed ESPN does not currently want to do this.

The members of the ACC have to look at the money the Big 14 is generating and ask what about us? Without a tv network, can they generate that revenue. Even with a network, can they? This makes them vulnerable. Could another network pay for a league network? Perhaps but would the ACC wait for that knowing the changing dynamics of the viewing landscape? Seems unlikely to me.

If the ACC is ripe for the picking like I believe it is, the Big 14 will pounce first and get the best markets. The key word is market. Ignore the prestige except in two cases I'll make. This is my best guess at what the Big 14 would do. 

Invite: Notre Dame, Boston College, Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Duke.

Notre Dame and Duke are academic and sport prestige additions. Notre Dame actually has a bigger NYC presence than Rutgers. The other 4 schools are all about market. Boston, Atlanta, North Carolina & Virginia.

That's a bloated football league but indulge me and imagine 2-Big 10 leagues

Classic: Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State

New: Indiana, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, BC

9 conference games in football, round robin in hoops, champions meet for a conference winner.

That's a league with plenty of inventory to sell. Indiana moves but given the basketball fervor, I put them with other basketball heavies. Illinois would be another option.

Next up would be the Big XII or SEC. Would the SEC react swiftly and grab traditional football schools such as Clemson and FSU? Doubtful. We have to think markets here. The SEC doesn't need Tallahassee or Clemson. Plus, that's a hard sell for Florida and South Carolina. But Virginia Tech and NC State make sense. While neither is a true football power, they'd fit the narrative of new markets. Now, if the Big XII were to implode, them I'd see the SEC chase Oklahoma.

SEC Adds: Virginia Tech, NC State

For football purposes, you play 7 games and 2 crossovers, 1 "rivalry" and 1 other. Basketball follows old Big East scheduling. Spoiler: Kentucky wins anyway

Division 1: Kentucky, Vandy, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, VaTech, NC State, Tennessee

Division 2: Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri

If the Big XII adds UConn and Cincinnati, then I see them adding the remaining ACC schools except Wake Forest. The question for me would be how many schools they add. Do they go to 16 or 20?

If 16, the Big XII adds: Clemson, Florida State, BYU & Louisville 

Ironically, in this scenario, Pitt & Syracuse are left looking for a dance partner after jumping ship and effectively killing the old Big East. Yes, I'd want this. Those two ending up in the AAC would be quite humorous. Syracuse doesn't technically add a market but I'd argue they add more than say, Rutgers. 

If 20, the Big XII also adds: Syracuse, USF, UCF & Pitt

Division 1: TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas, OU, Oklahoma State, BYU

Division 2: UConn, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Pitt, UCF, USF, Syracuse, Louisville, Clemson, Florida State

That would leave Wake Forest out. Fair or unfair, they offer less than UCF & USF and the market is covered. Possible the Big XII could add them and only 1 of UCF/USF.

This is all speculation, of course. I assume Notre Dame gets enough money from the Big 14 tv deals to assuage any financial loss leaving NBC. I don't underestimate their ego, though. They aligned with the ACC because they wanted to showcase where the talent was. This potential new division within the Big 14 would still allow that and let them still play USC and Navy. I think taking hockey to the Big 14 matters. Big 14 hockey is not viewed well and the RPI numbers back that. This is a first step but if they chose to remain independent, I could see the Big 14 go after an Oklahoma or Florida State but ultimately settling on Syracuse.

And even if part of this happens, it'll suck. Chasing tv money makes sense because they'll be a lot less of it later. Will the cost of tradition and intimacy outweigh it in the long run? Time would tell but ask yourselves this, has changing leagues helped schools on the court or field or just the bank account?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

2017 Top 10

This can change based on recruits, transfers, etc. but based on what I know, here goes nothing

10. Michigan State: Izzo is going the one and done route. I don't envision any Big 14 team being a true title contender but Sparty will have oodles of talent. Wisky, Indiana & Maryland are all projected by some as top-10 teams. Wisconsin will be loved by the computers , Indiana's fate hinges on Thomas Bryant's decision to stay or go. I don't believe in Mark Turgeon.

9. UCLA: The Pac-12 will be the best league in 2017. They have 4 legit top 10 teams, including USC. If Steve Alford doesn't make things happen in 2017, I don't care what his buyout is, he's out.

8. Oregon: This could change if guys expected to return surprise us and decide to depart. If things happen like they should, they'll probably be the Pac-12 favorite but not mine.

7. Kansas: The presumptive favorite for the services of Josh Jackson, Kansas will easily win another Big XII title. Plenty returns lead by Frank Mason and Landen Lucas. Lucas, to me, is the next great Kansas big that carries his team. 

6. North Carolina: Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson leave but most of the core will be back. They don't have any five stars coming in but with the returning depth, the guys they are getting won't have to be the stars. There's a chance Justin Jackson leaves but it isn't expected. 

5. Xavier: It looks like Jalen Reynolds is leaving and losing him along with James Farr thins the front court. Sean O'Mara flashed at moments but isn't the physical threat Farr & Reynolds were. That said, their guard play will be electric and they add Rashid Gaston, a transfer from Norfolk State who would alleviate front court depth issues.

4. Arizona: I'm higher on them because I expect big things from Allonzo Trier who is returning for his sophomore season. They have solid bigs returning and add enough pieces this team will not be a 6-seed or losing in the opening round. 

3. Villanova: The Big East will be stacked next season and a bit more daunting for the Wildcats. Butler, Creighton & Seton Hall will all be top 25 teams. Marquette will be better, as will St. John's. Won't matter. Villanova will miss the leadership of Arch and Chef but look for big seasons from Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.

2. Kentucky: Liked them losing in the Round of 32? Hope you enjoyed it because they will be stacked next year. Forget the top rated class coming in, which will be as good as any in the Calipari era, Isaiah Briscoe will have another summer to work on his game and Marcus Lee has a chance to be a monster senior. It'll be a blend of vets and frosh and possibly Cal's best mix.

1. Duke: Book it. This team will be in the Final 4. Kennard, Thornton, Jeter and Jefferson all return. Even Matt Jones. Couple those with the talent, probably the top 2 NBA prospects for the 2017 draft coming in? Sorry, Duke haters. If they land Marques Bolden? I'd say undefeated would be in the cards of they didn't play in the ACC. Them and Kentucky are 1-2 and there's no argument in my mind.

Edit: Grayson Allen is returning. Real threat to go undefeated in 16-17.

Villanova

Villanova is the first team since the 1987 Indiana Hooisers to win a National Championship without a sure fire 1st round draft choice on their roster.  

Villanova beat KenPom's 23rd, 13th, 7th, 4th and 2nd ranked teams on their way to the National Championship.

Villanova shot 64.9% from the field in their two Final Four games. Remeber, teams can't shoot at domes, especially Houston. 

Villanova loses Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu but returns the rest of their minutes and add a five star center and four star big man. 

Villanova finishes the year as the top team in KenPom, something the last two champions did not. They finish 2nd in offense and 6th in defense.

This was neither a fluke nor a story of an underdog. This was a worthy champion. This was a champion that thumbed itself into ESPN's eye. This was a victory that shows basketball schools can and will still win National Championships. This was a win that validates the decision by the Catholic 7 to break away and have a league anchored by basketball. It was a win for basketball. 


Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Final

Villanova's win over Oklahoma on Saturday was about as impressive a performance I've ever seen during a Final 4 sober. Carolina put in a workman-like effort and held off Syracuse. A late first half surge put the game in Carolina's control.

Villanova enters the game 1st in KenPom and Carolina enters 2nd. That rarely happens. The last I can find is the 2008 title game between Kansas and Memphis. Nova has a 56% win probability. UNC opened as a 1.5 favorite.

Carolina has the size advantage but interestingly enough, if we use KenPom's effective height metric, Iowa was bigger and Miami is just below UNC. Villanova annihilated those teams. Carolina is a different animal because they're more athletic. Carolina is going to get their share of second chance baskets and limit Villanova. But don't assume Villanova is going to fold at the Tar Heel length.

Villanova has been shooting lights out. North Carolina isn't a very good shooting team but hasn't needed to be. Villanova can't afford a 30% night from 3. With so many options playing with confidence, I think they'll shoot well enough. Don't underestimate their defense either. It's been stifling during this run.

Heart says Villanova. Brain says UNC length wins out.

The Pick: North Carolina 81 Villanova 79

Friday, April 1, 2016

Final 4: The Picks

Sadly, the last weekend of college basketball has arrived. After a wild opening 4 days, last week's Sweet 16 and Elite 8 was a combo of bad basketball and dominance in blowouts. Hopefully, this weekend is better.

Villanova vs. Oklahoma

A lot of college basketball writers/reporters ate crow last weekend. Villanova? Can't get past the opening weekend! Shoot too many 3's! Oklahoma? Too many jump shooters! Buddy Hield can't do it alone! That was fun.

Villanova is a 3-pt favorite with a 62% win probability at KenPom. That's pretty substantial for a Final 4 game. Especially in a game where at first blush, these teams look evenly matched. Nova is 4th in AdjustedO and 7th in AdjustedD. The Sooners are 13th in both. 

Nova's biggest weakness is offensive rebounding and getting to the foul line. Well, Oklahoma's weakness is defensive rebounding. They don't foul, so Nova probably wasn't getting to the line anyway. Oklahoma doesn't force turnovers, Nova doesn't commit them.

Villanova was more impressive last weekend in that they won with an incredible offensive performance on Thursday and then a brilliant defensive performance on Saturday. That's not to take away from Oklahoma who whipped both Texas A&M and Oregon. Villanova's wins over Miami and Kansas were just better.

I won't dismiss what may ultimately matter most tomorrow, and that's Buddy Hield. He's been so damn fun this tournament. Villanova stopped Perry Ellis cold in the Elite 8. They'll need another effort like that. Hield is so quick and good at getting open. And his release is so quick. How does Nova neutralize him? Or do they? Ultimately, it might just be Nova saying get yours, no one else is getting any. 

Reid Forgrave commented how loose and how much fun it looks like Oklahkma is having. I've been saying that about Villanova since January. I don't think the moment will be too big for either squad. This could be a game for the ages.

Pick: Villanova 78 Oklahoma 75

North Carolina vs. Syracuse

Carolina is a healthy 7-point favorite with a 74% win probability. They have more depth and a much efficient offense than Syracuse. UNC is first. Syracuse is 50th.

Carolina shot the 3 brilliantly against Indiana and then only went 4-13 against Notre Dame. Can they get it inside against the zone? Will it matter? Carolina is 3rd in offensive rebounding. Syracuse is 337th in defensive rebounding. Carolina's length should give Syracuse issues. Carolina really isn't reliant on the 3. Cuse will have to deny the post where Carolina eats.

Carolina swept Syracuse this year, winning by 9 at the Carrier Dome and then by 5 at the Dean Dome, scoring 83 and 75 in each game. If they get to 80 again, they won't lose.

Before the prediction, I have to comment on two things. First, the performance by Syracuse in the 2nd half against Virginia last Sunday may have been the best 15 minutes of college basketball this year. The Orange were patient and fast and didn't turn it over once in that stretch. They pressed as well as any team you've seen press this year, not only forcing turnovers but forcing tempo on a team that despite what Seth Davis says, can't play at tempo. When Virginia cleared the press, they took quick shots they weren't use to. On offense, the Orange were patient and waited to clear space and let their athletic ability defeat less athletic players. It was a clinic on how to beat slow teams and a joy to watch. Virginia unraveled in the face of adversity because Syracuse had better basketball players and talent won.

Second point is, the noise around this game about the NCAA and it's governance is deserved. I don't have an answer how to "fix" the NCAA other than destroy it and eliminate the American obsession with the idea of amateurism. I'll have a post-season write up about the future of college athletics and conferences and it won't be much fun going forward, at least in my opinion, so enjoy the tournament and even this matchup. I think the future is worse than the present and the reasoning the road were on is really dumb. Anyway, the pick is 

North Carolina 80 Syracuse 66

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Marquette: A Look Back

Year two of the Wojo era has come and gone. Marquette finished the year 20-13 and 8-10 in the Big East. A borderline NCAA time in my mind entering the season, the Golden Eagles were done in by losses at home to DePaul, Creighton & Belmont. A lousy non-conference schedule left them little room for error. Any chance at a NIT bid were done in by upsets in mid-major conferences. 

Marquette finished 97th in KenPom, 107th in offense and 93rd in defense. Marquette was one of the worst rebounding teams on both sides of the court. On offense, they were one of the worst at protecting the ball. There is a lot of room for growth. 

Freshmen

Sacar Anim - The Minnesota Player of the Year saw little playing time. Hard to say what they have with him. 

Matt Heldt- Wojo's first commit in the class got hurt late after seeing a little more playing time as Big East play went on. Heldt mostly saw time when Fischer got into foul trouble and Ellenson needed a blow. Needed to get stronger and looks a lot different than he did when he arrived on campus. May take another year but has a chance to be a solid upper class men. With Ellenson's likely departure, might be in line for a big bump in playing time next season.

Traci Carter - Carter was thrown into the fire as a starter. By the end of the year, he was coming off the bench but seeing a lot of minutes. Carter was 45th in assist rate this season nationally. He was also 74th in steal rate. Carter's problem was turnover rate, 29.1% and getting in foul trouble. He'll have to improve his 3% shooting. I think the positives outweighed the negatives given his youth. Asked to do a lot early, it should bode well for his growth. 

Haanif Cheatham - By the end of the year, Cheatham showed glimpses of being the type of player that becomes the face of a program. He saw a lot of playing time and finished with an effective fg% of 54.3. Cheatham was good at getting to the free throw line and showed the ability to become a good 3-point shooter. Needs to add a mid-range game. Had a turnover problem as well. If he can be more efficient in that regard, he could be All Big East type player.

Henry Ellenson- Lived up to the hype and then some. Some will call it a wasted year for him and the program. Perhaps it was. Given the team and coaching staff inexperience, he was probably "wasted". That said, he was still an important get for the staff to establish itself. The hope is the staff experience with a player of his caliber makes them better going forward. Won't hurt them if he's a lottery pick.

Sophomores

Sandy Cohen - Cohen started the year well and was a defensive star in their win in Madison. Once Big East play started, he completely disappeared. He was lost on defense and his shot broken. His role going forward is uncertain. Also had a turnover rate of 20%.

Duane Wilson- Thought Duane could break out this year. Instead, he was erratic all year. Brilliant one game, he would be borderline unplayable the next. Took 156 3-pointers and shot 35%. Bad Duane bogged down the offense. Good Duane attacked the hoop and gave them a threat from outside. Too much of the former, not enough of the latter. Team needs good Duane in 2017.

Juniors

Wally Ellenson- Did Wally get recruited to help bring in Henry? Probably, at least partly. His role likely doesn't differ much next year. Occasional minutes with a hope of some high energy. 

Luke Fischer- The optimist hopes an off-season without any injury issues lets him develop his game further. The pessimist worries he is what he is. A silly-foul prone big with streaks of brilliance and streaks of invisibility. Luke is an effective around the hoop offensive player. He finished with an effective fg% of 60.8%, 48th.  He was 59th in offensive rebounding% but has to get stronger on the defensive glass where he averaged less boards than on offense. That's not good. Cohen actually was a better defensive rebounder. Fischer would get into foul trouble far too often and far too often they were soft and silly fouls. If he doesn't get that cleaned up as a senior, it could be a long season. He'll need to stay on the court and be productive. Next to Cohen, he was the most disappointing player this year. Skills are there. Can he develop them? Can the staff help him reach them? Think we learn a lot about him and the staff based on how his senior year is. Given the reaction to his game winning free throws against Georgetown, there's little doubt the staff loves the kid and want him to each that potential. A good senior season possibly gets him drafted.

Jajuan Johnson- Johnson seemed to be coming into his own as the season progressed. A former top-50 recruit, he flashed those moments a lot more this season. His shooting improved and started making steals on defense, 38th in steal %. Still disappears on defense to the consternation of the staff. Also fails to get back on occasion. If he cleans that up, he could have a special senior season. Like the rest of the team, needs to clean up turnovers. Scored double digits in 9 of his last 12 games. 

Arriving: Sam Hauser, FR, Wisconsin State Player of the Year, good shooter compared by Wojo to Kris Jenkins; Andrew Rowsey, SG transferred from UNC-Asheville, good 3-point shooter.

One spot available, two if HE leaves. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quick thought on the Virginia collapse

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *catches breathe*

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Take that ass offense home 

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA