Category Archives: College Basketball

The State of College Basketball

Sorry, Carolina. Not quite, California. Nice try, Indiana. But Tennessee is the best state in college basketball right now. You can argue about the best team—a debate that will be resolved with the tournament—but the Volunteer State reigns supreme among the 50 in the world of college basketball.

On Saturday, the University of Tennessee traveled to Memphis and knocked off the previously undefeated Tigers to unseat Memphis as the number one ranked team in the nation. Tennessee didn’t have long to celebrate their big win and first number one ranking in school history, though, as they traveled in state to visit conference rival Vanderbilt on Tuesday.

The Volunteers were defeated 72-69, and the game wasn’t even as close as the final score. While the win may make Bruce Pearl’s stop atop the polls a short one, Vanderbilt should move up in the rankings. They are currently ranked 18th in the AP poll and 14th in the USA Today/ESPN poll. It’s not unthinkable that the Commodores could soon join Memphis and Tennessee to give the state three teams in the top 10 in the country. The shakeup in the Volunteer State has me wondering if Tennessee is college basketball’s best state today.

A closer look at the rankings shows that the state of Tennessee is among exclusive company. Only three states currently feature at least three teams in the top 25: California, Indiana and Tennessee. While Indiana leads the way with four teams in the top 25, none is ranked higher than 12th. California has two teams in the top 10, UCLA and Stanford. But it’s only other ranked team is St. Mary’s College at 25 in the AP poll.

Both Memphis and Tennessee have a viable shot at a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The state’s third team, Vanderbilt has a chance to earn as high as a number three seed with a strong finish in conference.

That’s enough for me to give Tennessee, the rocky top position among all the states playing college basketball today.

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March Madness A-Z

The buzz is in the air. March Madness is still several days away, but it’s never to early to prepare. What’s everybody talking about? Here are 65 people, places and things listed from A-Z to help even the most casual basketball fan get ready for the 2008 NCAA Tournament, the best event in sports today.



The Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, will play host to the 2008 Final Four.

Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is arguably the greatest college basketball player of all-time. In his three seasons at UCLA (freshmen were ineligible to play back then), his Bruins teams went 88-2 and won the national title each year. Alcindor also earned tournament Most Outstanding Player honors each year from 1967-69.

Anonymous players always seem to come out on the big stage. Some of the tournament’s greatest performances came from players who never went on to make a significant splash in the NBA. In the past 20 years alone, MOPs have included Anderson Hunt, Donald Williams, Miles Simon and Jeff Sheppard. The four players combined to play 23 games in the NBA.




Bands from the various colleges and universities provide the soundtrack for the tournament. Everyone wants to hear their school’s fight song as their team marches on through the bracket.

The Big Dance is one of the most prominent nicknames for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Everyone wants an invite, but only 65 teams receive one. Thirty-one schools win automatic bids by winning their conference tournament (or Ivy League regular season championship). The other 34 spots are at-large selections determined by a special NCAA committee.

Jay Bilas is a basketball analyst who splits time between ESPN and CBS. His business approach to basketball and knowledge of the game has helped him become one of the college basketball’s most prominent voices in recent years.

Bracketology is defined by as the practice of predicting the field of the NCAA basketball tournament; by extension, parsing things into discrete one-on-one matchups to determine a winner.

Brackets turn into an art form this time of year. All the matchups weave together in a symmetrical pattern leading to the championship.

Bubble teams are teams on the fringe of being selected into the tournament. The bubble bursts for those teams that don’t quite make it. Those that are given at-large berths are then under scrutiny to vindicate their inclusion in the tourney.

Buzzer beaters are part of the thrill of March Madness. There are always a few fantastic finishes that come down to the buzzer. If you’re lucky enough to hit one of those shots, your highlight will be replayed every year at this time when they recap the most memorable moments of tournaments past.


CBS has covered the NCAA Tournament since 1982. Unless you have DirecTV, CBS is the place to watch the games on TV.

Cinderella stories provide hope for the little guy. Tales of Cinderella champions like the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack and 1985 Villanova Wildcats are told this time of year, as are the magical runs of small schools like Gonzaga in 1999 and George Mason in 2006.

Coaches are the faces of colleges and universities, where star players often leave after one or two years of school. Roaming the sidelines, these men all vie for a chance to reign supreme in their sport.

Conference supremacy is one of the subplots of the tournament. The power conferences are the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Southeastern Conference and Pac 10. They all want to have the most teams in the tournament as well as the most teams advancing through each round. Meanwhile, the other conferences, often referred to as mid-majors try to spoil the party for the big guys.

Cutting down the nets is a tradition that started back in 1947 by North Carolina State. Today, school’s advancing to the Final Four each cut down the nets. The coach usually goes first and the players follow, each clipping a piece as a keepsake of their tournament run.


Daytime games are rare in sports today when primetime TV ratings are heavily coveted, however, March Madness tips off on a Thursday shortly after noon Eastern Time.

Decreased productivity is a yearly consequence of the NCAA Tournament. Estimates suggest that the tournament costs employers than 1.4 billion dollars because workers spend time filling out brackets, watching and talking about tournament games.

Duke University is the New York Yankees of college basketball. They are traditionally one of the favorites to win it all, and have a devout fan base as well as a large segment of the population that loves to see them come up short.

Dunks were banned by the NCAA from 1967 to 1976, but expect plenty of above the rim action this year. Nothing electrifies a crowd more than a thunderous slam dunk.




The Elite Eight refers to the fourth round of the tournament. Eight teams vie for a chance to advance to the third and final weekend.

Emotions run high in March as coaches and players are put to the test under the national spotlight. Tears will fall, fists will pump and adrenaline will flow as teams battle against the inevitable fact that players on 64 teams will see their championship dreams fall short.




The Fab Five was the nickname for the University of Michigan’s recruiting class of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King that led the Wolverines to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 1992 and 1993, losing in the championship game each time. Webber turned pro after his sophomore season and Howard and Rose followed after their junior years. Michigan’s Final Four banners have since been forfeited due to violations.

The Final Four occurs on a Saturday. Four regional champions square off in semi-final matchups with the winners advancing to compete in the championship game on Monday.

Foul trouble will surely play a role in at least one big game. In football, a penalty can cost you 15 yards and a first down. In hockey, a penalty will get you a few minutes in the penalty box. But five fouls disqualifies you from a college basketball game, so star players have to avoid fouling out or they run the risk of watching the end of the game from the bench.

Free throws are either the easiest or most difficult shots to make in basketball, depending on the player. Pressure free throws late in a game often decide the fate of a team.




Guards may be the most important players in the tournament. While basketball is a big man’s game, point guards are the floor generals, directing traffic and controlling the ball most of the time. Strong guard play is an essential ingredient to success in March.




History is a big part of the lure of the tournament. Some interesting historical facts:

  • A 16-seed has never defeated a number one.
  • All four number one seeds have never made it to the Final Four in the same year.
  • As an eight seed in 1985, Villanova was the lowest seeded team to ever win the tournament.



Individual matchups are an essential part of the bracket system. Scouting comes to a forefront as coaches try to find the best matchup and use it to their benefit.




Gus Johnson is one of the best play-by-play announcers in sports today. His enthusiasm and excitement captivate audiences and he is a perfect fit for March Madness.




Mike Krzyzewski leads all active NCAA coaches with three national titles. Additionally, he has led Duke to 10 Final Four appearances in his 28 years there. He is also the all-time leader in NCAA Tournament victories with 68.




Joe Lundardi is ESPN’s resident bracketologist. His study of college basketball and the history of tournament seeding enables him to predict the field of 65 nearly perfectly each year.




Mascots ranging from the Stanford Tree to Syracuse’s Otto the Orange to The Blue Blob of Xavier do more than star in “This is SportsCenter” commercials. They’ll be out in full-fuzzy-bodied force come tournament time.

Most Outstanding Player is the NCAA Tournament’s award for the best player. Many sports name an MVP, but the MOP is the award given to the tournament’s standout performer.




The National Championship gold-plated plaque is not really a trophy, but in a world of glitz and glamour, it’s refreshing to have such a simple symbol of success.




Office pools galore make March Madness interesting to the serious and casual fan alike. Everyone wants bragging rights for having the most correct picks.

One Shining Moment” is the theme song played at the conclusion of the tournament by CBS. It is played over a montage of highlights from the tournament, ending with a shot of the newly crowned champions.

The Opening Round is a game played between the teams determined to be the 64th and 65th best in the tournament. On a Tuesday night before the first round begins, these teams play for a chance to advance and play a number one seed.




Billy Packer has been the color commentator for every Final Four since 1974. A polarizing figure, Packer has been involved in a number of controversies during his broadcasting career.

Bruce Pearl is the head coach the Tennessee Volunteers. In just his third season with the Vols, Pearl has taken his team to its first number one ranking in school history. The charismatic Pearl made waves in Tennessee when he showed up bare-chested with a V painted on his chest in support of legendary Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt and the Tennessee Lady Vols.

Predictions will start to fly fast and furiously as soon as the brackets are announced. Be weary of the “sleeper” pick that every “expert” is predicting to advance far in the tournament.




Quitting is not part of the NCAA tournament lexicon. “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,” were the famous words of Jim Valvano at the ESPY awards in 1993. The legendary coach led the North Carolina State Wolfpack to the 1983 title. His memorable speech was given just months before he died of cancer. To date, the V Foundation, a cancer research foundation in his honor, has raised more than $70 million.




Bill Raftery is a college basketball color commentator known for his many catchphrases such as “Man-to-man!” and “With the kiss!”

Regionals in the NCAA Tournament are named East, Midwest, South and West. While I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the regions will be named McDonald’s East, General Motors Midwest, Coca-Cola South and Starbucks West, it’s nice to have something non-corporate for the time being.

Rivalries permeate college basketball, especially within the conferences. When rivals meet during the tournament, the stakes are raised and wins become even more meaningful. The rivalry between North Carolina and Duke is widely regarded as the fiercest in college basketball. Despite the success of both programs, the teams have never met in the NCAA Tournament.




School colors are as diverse as the rainbow. Every arena hosting first-round action is filled with fans of the various teams competing.

Seeds are the way teams are ranked for the NCAA Tournament. Teams are seeded 1-16 with one being the best in four different regions. One plays 16, two plays 15 and so on down the line. It’s set up for the top-seeded teams to have the easiest path to the championship, but upsets inevitably alter the course of the tournament from round to round. The tournament is not re-seeded at any point.

Selection Sunday is one of the most events in sports that doesn’t involve any actual competition. The field of 65 is announced and everyone begins to break down the matchups.

Spring and March Madness go hand in hand as hope springs eternal, so it’s only fitting that the first round kicks off on the first day of spring in 2008.

The Sweet 16 refers to the third round of the tournament. Teams that win their first two games advance past the first weekend to play on in the Sweet 16.




Team nicknames in college are varied to say the least. There is the Stanford Cardinal and the Louisville Cardinals as well as everything from Golden Flashes (Kent State) to But you’ll likely have plenty of tournament teams to pick from if you like Wildcats (32 schools including Arizona, Kansas State, Kentucky and Villanova), Bulldogs (39 schools including Butler, Drake, Gonzaga and Mississippi State) or Tigers (45 schools including Auburn, Clemson, Memphis and Missouri).

Text messaging makes it easier than ever to relay score information during the tournament. It wasn’t long ago, that the only way to find scores was on TV or in the newspaper the next day.

Three points. Dunks may make highlight heels, but a shot from farther than 19’9” is good for an extra point. The 3-point shot has become such an integral part of the college game that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t introduced nationally until 1986. Beginning next season, the NCAA will move its 3-point line back a full foot to 20 feet, 9 inches. Expect plenty of 3-balls to fall during the final tournament at the current distance.

Three weeks is the duration of the tournament. Unlike the Super Bowl, which is two weeks of hype for one big game, March Madness delivers 64 games on eleven days spread over three weeks.

Tournament experience is a phrase you’re likely to hear often throughout the tournament. Teams with players who have played in the tournament before often feel they have a competitive advantage based upon their experience of years gone by.

Tradition is a big part of college sports, in general, and the tournament, specifically. Some “basketball schools” steeped in tradition include UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina and Duke.




UCLA has won an NCAA-record 11 national championships. Ten were won under coach John Wooden and the 11th came in 1995 under Jim Harrick. The Bruins made it back to the Final Four each of the past two seasons, losing to eventual champion Florida each time.

Undefeated seasons are rare in all team sports. The last college basketball team to do so was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. The UCLA Bruins had back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1972 and 1973.

An undisputed champion results from the grueling tournament that forces a team to win six games in three weeks against stiff competition. Unlike college football, there is no argument about who is number one at the end of tournament.

Upsets can be bracket busters as low-seeded teams knock off powerhouses predicted to play into the Sweet 16 or beyond.




Dick Vitale is the unofficial bald-headed spokesperson of college basketball. Working for ESPN, Vitale does not get to broadcast tournament games, however, Vitale represents college basketball more than any announcer represents any other sport.




John Wooden is the legendary former coach of UCLA. The 97-year-old “Wizard of Westwood,” Wooden is widely regarded as one of the smartest and most genuine men in the history of the game. He coached UCLA to a record 10 national championships, including seven in a row from 1967-1973.




X-factors are little things that make a big difference in a game or throughout the tournament. Turnovers are always a costly X-factor, especially late in the game.




Youth is on display in this tournament as players as young as 17 and 18 compete on a national stage. Freshmen were once not allowed to play varsity basketball in college. Today, many of the top rated players are in their first year of college. For some, this will be their only appearance in the tournament before turning pro.




Zags is the unofficial nickname of Gonzaga University. They are technically known as the Gonzaga Bulldogs, however they are popularly referred to as Zags and the school has become the poster-child of small school success in the NCAA Tournament. After making a shocking run to the Elite Eight in 1999, the Zags’ basketball program has regularly been ranked among the top 25 in college basketball.

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Easter Basketball

When I looked at the calendar a month or so ago to find the start of the 2008 NCAA Tournament, I was surprised to find that it coincided with the Catholic Church’s Holy Week.

Being a Catholic myself that meant that I wouldn’t spend March 23 simply watching eight games determining the second half of the sweet 16. I’d spend it celebrating Easter, only the biggest day of the year in the church.

Schedule conflictions and religious convictions aside, March 23 seemed like a very early date for Easter to me, so I did some research and found that I was right. Dating back to 1875, March 23 is the earliest date that Easter has been celebrated. And 2008 will mark just the second time it’s happened. Easter also fell on March 23, 1913.

That means it’s been 95 years since Easter came this early! World War I hadn’t even happened yet, let alone March Madness. Back then, the NCAA didn’t have a tournament to crown its champion. In 1913, Navy was voted national champions by the Helms Foundation after posting a 9-0 record—for the entire season. Today it takes six games just to win the NCAA Tournament.

In the past, several Final Fours have been played on the Saturday before Easter with the championship following on Monday. But only twice in the past 30 years have teams played NCAA Tournament games on Easter Sunday.

In 1989, Illinois beat Syracuse 89-86 and Duke defeated Georgetown 85-77 in two regional final games held on Easter.

The most recent games played on Easter also came in the regional finals of the 2005 NCAA Tournament. Michigan State edged Kentucky 94-88 in two overtimes and North Carolina defeated Wisconsin 88-82.

With Easter coinciding with second round action in this year’s NCAA Tournament, a record 16 NCAA teams will be competing on Easter. So after church and a search for your Easter basket, basketball won’t be hard to find. Celebrate the holiday with friends and family and the most exciting event in sports.

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Humanizing stories

At its absolute best, sports can teach us about life. It can teach us valuable lessons about teamwork, fair play, practice and achieving goals. And often times, experiences on the court or the field can serve as a metaphor for experiences in life.

But while sports can serve as a great tool, sometimes sports stories are just a simple way of connecting us to gripping human stories. The linked stories below are not sports stories. They are stories about life and death. One is a tale of great tragedy. The other is a tale of great triumph. Both are connected only by the fact that the protagonist was in some way involved in sports.

First is a gut-wrenching story flooded with tragic details that have still not been completely sorted out. Read this heartbreaking article first to become acquainted with the story of Tim Parmeter, former coach at Eastern Arizona. Then brace yourself for the second part of this story that just gets more and more depressing.

After reading about Parmeter, you need a pick-me-up tale, something that shows the good in humanity. Perhaps there is no greater story from the past year of overcoming the odds and fighting for life than that of Kevin Everett. When he was paralyzed following a special teams tackle in week one, doctors feared for his life. If you haven’t been following since then, you have to read this article. It’s nothing short of miraculous where he’s at today.

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Thoughts and Links From the Workweek

It’s been a busy week in the office and on my social calendar (hence the lack of updates this week). I have managed to do plenty of Web browsing throughout the week though.

Check out these links to some of the most interesting sports news items and stories that caught my eye.

  • You have to read Wright Thompson’s story about Tony Harris, the former Washington State basketball player whose corpse was found in the forests of Brazil. This is not a sports story. This is a human story whose main character just happened to play basketball for a living. It’s a truly gripping and saddening tale. Thompson traveled to Brazil to unearth as many details as possible. You may also want to read Henry Abbott’s conversation with Thompson about the story on Abbott’s phenomenal blog, TrueHoop.
  • In more upbeat news, Bob Sanders had a great week. Already voted a Pro Bowl starter for the AFC, anders was named the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and voted to the NFL All-Pro team. I’ve watched Sanders play since he was an RB/DB listed as Demond Sanders at Cathedral Prep and it’s been amazing to watch him develop into a star through hard work and hard hits. This Indianapolis Star article says Sanders plays the same way he played as a kid growing up in Erie, Pa. He’s also got his own special on the NFL network, “Who is Bob Sanders?” The show airs tonight at 10:30 with reairs on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Like Sanders, Clayton Holmes was a Super Bowl-winning defensive back. But that is pretty much where the similarities end. Holmes’ tragic story is told by Page 2’s Jeff Pearlman.
  • Scoop Jackson makes an interesting case for Derek Fisher as the most important player to the Lakers success. I wrote a poem called “The Fish That Saved Los Angeles” after Fisher hit the game winning shot against the Spurs in game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Finals. Maybe it’s time for a reprise.
  • Did you see the biggest story in college basketball this week? Of course, I’m talking about 7’7” Kenny George, the tallest player in NCAA history. The UNC-Asheville junior got dunked on by North Carolina Tar Heel star Tyler Hansbrough in a 92-81 Tar Heel victory. George had 14 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks in the loss, and he is definitely a player to keep an eye on.
  • Finally, have you read about 50-year-old basketball sharpshooter Dave Hopla? This guy makes more than 90 percent of his college-range 3-point shot attempts. And his streak of 1,234 consecutive made free throws really makes me feel like I need to improve upon my personal best of “thirty-something.”

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How Often Do Championship Games Actually Live Up to the Hype?

After watching three of the first four BCS bowl games turn out to be blowouts, I began wondering about the chances that LSU-Ohio State would also be a blowout similar to the Buckeyes-Gators championship from last year. And that got me thinking about championships in general. How often does the final game of the season actually live up to the hype of a championship?
I did some research and compiled tables (see below) from the past nine championship games (the first BCS champion was in 1999) in college football, the NFL, the NBA, college basketball and Major League Baseball. If we set parameters of a “close game” as 7 points or less in football, 6 points or less in basketball, and 2 runs or less in baseball, only 22 of 45 championship-deciding games have been close in the aforementioned sports since 1999.


It’s hard to compare across sports because obviously basketball games are higher scoring than football games, and baseball games are much lower scoring. Perhaps there’s some statistical expert out there who knows how to formulate a stat that could eliminate the variables and compare the scoring margin across the sporting world. But until that person steps forward, I’ll just offer the data and my observations.


Comparing football to football, the BCS championship games don’t quite stack up against the most recent Super Bowls. The average margin of victory in BCS title games is 15.33 whereas the Super Bowl margin of victory has been just 12.0 since 1999.


Judging the World Series and NBA Finals is also difficult because, unlike the other sports, they decide their champion in a series. But judging by the final game of the series, they are slightly more likely to be close games. In the case of Major League Baseball, no deciding game has been decided by more than 3 runs in the past nine years. Unfortunately, five of those years saw the World Series end in a four game sweep, which significantly lessens the drama and intrigue of the closeout game.


The Nielsen TV ratings indicate that the BCS is performing strongly. While the Super Bowl remains the standard by which all televised sporting events are measured, the BCS ratings average is greater than all of the other sports listed.


What does all this mean? I’m not completely sure, but basically it seems to suggest that even if the game Monday night is a blowout, I’ll probably be watching. Yeah, sounds about right.
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