The Sweet 16 of March Madness!

No offense to your brackets, but, for me, this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been a bit of a dud for those of us always pull for a few big surprises. 

Sure, the Oregon Ducks have been on a massive roll through the Pac-12 tournament and the first two games of the NCAA tournament. 

Sorry, Oregon.  Your Pac-12 conference Ducks are just not the same type of feel-good small school story as last year’s Loyola-Chicago Ramblers team and their now-99 year old good luck charm, Sister Jean

This year’s final 16 teams are pretty much the expected teams among the big boys of basketball.  There are some good stories, but the sports journalists will have to work a bit harder this year.

Heading into Thursday and Friday night’s games, we have all four #1 seeds left, all four of the #2 seeds remaining, and all four of the #3 seeds still in the tourney? 

Yawn. 

All of the top 12 teams are standing this year after two games!  Add two #4 seeds (Florida State and Virginia Tech), a #5 seed (Auburn) and #12 Oregon, and there’s this year’s Sweet 16. 

However, did you know that Sister Jean’s Loyola-Chicago Ramblers had won the National Championship back in 1963? 

Did you also know that Loyola-Chicago has one more National Championship in their basketball trophy case than this year’s #1 seeds Virginia and Gonzaga, #2 seed Tennessee, #3 seeds LSU, Purdue, Texas Tech, and the University of Houston, #4 seeded Virginia Tech, and #5 Auburn?

So, despite the blue bloods like Kentucky (8 national titles), North Carolina (6), Duke (5), Michigan State (2), and others like Michigan and Oregon with one trophy each, there are ten other extremely hungry teams in the remaining field of 16 who still have the chance to win their first men’s basketball championship.

The good news about this weekend’s basketball schedule is that ANYONE left in this field could still win it all. 

The two “worst” remaining teams (#12 seed Oregon and #5 seed Auburn) both won their conference tournaments to get into the field and are playing a frenetic style of basketball with full-court pressure, sharpshooting three-point bombs, and are scoring points at pinball wizard speed. 

What about LSU, you ask?  Can you imagine the “holier-than-thou” national media screaming about a team which suspended its coach (Will Wade) who won’t even talk to his bosses about a reported wire-tapping of a possible payoff to the family of one of their current players? 

LSU was already playing hard as they dedicated this season to honor one of their players (20-year old Wayde Sims) who was shot and killed in Baton Rouge back in September.  His father (Wayne Sims) had played on the LSU basketball team in the 1980’s for Coach Dale Brown.

This year’s Tigers’ team has nothing to lose at this point.  They have plenty of talent but need to play their best games now if they want to advance. 

If the allegations about Coach Will Wade turn out to be true, LSU’s team should be be approaching each game as if it may be the last NCAA tournament game of their college careers.  The NCAA would likely place LSU on a lengthy suspension from post-season play if the worst is confirmed.

Gonzaga would be a great story, too!  Coach Mark Few has taken this small university in Spokane, Washington to national prominence in the past two decades.

The Zags have made the NCAA basketball tournament for 21 consecutive seasons!  They appeared in the national championship game two years ago but lost to North Carolina.

Gonzaga’s overall NCAA tournament record is now 33-21 and now equates to 61% winning percentage.   By contrast, the Duke Blue Devils lead this year’s field with a combined men’s tournament record of 111-36 (75.5%) followed by North Carolina, which sports a 123-45 tournament record (73%). 

So, your statistical best chances to win it all remain with Duke and North Carolina in a potential finals match-up this year.

I feel hopeful that at least one or two “spoiler” teams will emerge from the pack by the end of this weekend to prevent the Final Four from becoming the second-ever match-up of four #1 seeds in history.     

It isn’t called “March Madness” for nothing! 

Sweep-the-SwampCast #3 – Feb. 22, 2019

It’s time for ol’ SwampSwami to bring you a few additional stories via our weekly “Sweep-the-SwampCast” audio podcast.

Today’s podcast features an update on a Saints’ fan lawsuit filed in Louisiana, thoughts about issues surrounding the “shoe kablooey” of Duke hoops star Zion Williamson, more details on the NBA’s Anthony Davis/New Orleans Pelicans trade saga, the man who just provided a $250 million cash infusion into the fledgling AAF professional football league and became its new Chairman, and a tribute to former Dodgers’ pitcher, Don Newcombe, who passed away this week at age 92.

Click on the box above to listen or subscribe (FREE!) on Apple Podcasts! Enjoy the really big shoe (oops – I mean “show“)!

Death of the Diaper Dandy Dynasties?

The NCAA basketball’s Final Four is now set for this Saturday in San Antonio.  The upstart Ramblers of Loyola-Chicago will square off with the Big 10’s Michigan Wolverines while #1 seeds Kansas and Villanova will play the nightcap.  These teams earned their way to the big stage, and it should be a magnificent day of college hoops in the Alamo City.

It is also notable who will not be in the final weekend of this year’s March Madness.  No Kentucky.  No Duke.  Two of the nation’s foremost college basketball programs will again be sitting out the dance this year.

For both the Wildcats and Blue Devils, this marks the third consecutive year which neither team will play in the championship game of men’s college basketball.  These two national hoops hotbeds have been on the Final Four sidelines more than in the championship game in recent years.  Duke’s last championship came in 2015, while Big Blue in Kentucky last hoisted a trophy in 2012.

Based on the hype surrounding those two teams and their recent one-on-one battles for the most prized high school recruits, you would think those two schools would be winning the tournament more often.

The answer, of course, is that Kentucky and Duke have become the nation’s foremost “one and done” schools for many young players whose sole intent is to meet the NBA’s minimum eligibility requirements after one year at school.

In 2018, Kentucky’s starting five consisted of all freshmen, while Duke started four freshmen and a lone senior, Grayson Allen.  Nine freshmen out of ten starters!  Sadly, most of these nine young players have convinced themselves that they are now ready to play in the NBA.

A few may make it, but most won’t.

Imagine, for a moment, just how good a Kentucky or Duke team just might be if many of these players would stay in school and play for two or three seasons?

Meanwhile, the four teams playing in this weekend’s games will start a total of two (count ’em) freshmen while juniors and seniors dominate the starting fives.  The twenty starting players will be focused on the ultimate team goal – winning a national championship.

Kentucky, Duke and a few other universities have opted to invest in recruiting the highly-hyped “one and done” high school basketball stars to, in part, avoid having so-called rebuilding years following the loss of key upperclassmen.  All the while, both these schools and their younger players wink while knowing they are mutually using each other for their own financial gain.

It is time for the NCAA and the NBA to end this charade by permitting high school players to go directly into the professional ranks (including the development leagues).  Alternatively, for those players who elect to sign an athletic scholarship to play college ball, those student-athletes should be required to make a minimum three-year commitment to the program and, hopefully, take advantage of the educational opportunities.

This weekend’s Final Four “older kids” have worked hard to accomplish a singular goal of winning a national championship.  It will be a treat to watch them give it their all.

Meanwhile, the Diaper Dandy kiddie programs have returned home and are all tucked-in taking their pre-NBA draft naps.

Shh…Don’t anyone wake-up these sleeping programs anytime soon.

I am having too much fun again this year without them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s up with Coach K? Something looks wrong at Duke

Saturday, for the first time in 23 years, the Virginia Cavaliers won a college basketball game in Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.  Both teams were highly ranked coming into the game.  Virginia came into the game sporting an astounding 19-1 record, a #2 national ranking, and an unblemished 9-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Duke defended its home court sporting a #4 AP ranking with an 18-2 mark with both losses coming in ACC play.

This was a dandy game.  For Virginia.

The Wahoos whooped Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils by a final score of 65-63.  Not even Duke’s legendary Cameron Crazies could put the mojo on this Virginia team.  The game truly wasn’t as close as the final score as Duke had to rally late in the second half just to make it close.

Virginia, coached by Tony Bennett (not the singer!), plays a brand of basketball which is the antithesis of the way most of today’s young basketball players are learning to play the game (right, LaVar Ball?).  Virginia plays exceptional defense, milks the clock on offense while setting screens and sending players cutting to the hoop for easy shots, rarely turns the ball over, and just wins.  Some call it ugly.  I call it effective.  Just win, baby!

If you think it is the blue-chip players that Virginia is recruiting, think again.  Duke’s 2017 recruiting class was rated #1.  Virginia?  Drum roll please…#99!   Duke is getting the McDonald’s All-Americans, while Tony Bennett’s team is doing all the hard dirty work back in the kitchen.

Kudos to Coach Bennett and his band of merry Wahoos.  The No-Names of UVa remind me of the San Antonio Spurs of college basketball.  Their willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team is quite impressive.

But that’s where this story turns.  It is what DIDN’T happen yesterday that had me thinking after the game.

Duke’s legendary head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, is one of the all-time best in college basketball.  Duke’s leader for five NCAA championships, Coach K knows what buttons to push with his team and when to do it.  He has been masterful as a coach since coming to Duke in 1980.

On Saturday, though, Duke was uncharacteristically turning the ball over (16 times) to only 4 for Virginia.   Duke shot only 11 free throws in the game and only connected on five of them.  With the game decided by only two points, Duke can only blame themselves for this rare home loss.

Saturday’s game just wasn’t “Duke basketball” anymore.

This year’s Duke squad is filled with NBA-wannabe freshmen.  Their freshman big man, Marvin Bagley III, was dominating on Saturday with 30 points.  However, while Bagley’s stock soared the more he scored, Duke’s other players were literally standing around.  Coach K’s former teams were known as skilled passers who found a way to get the ball to the open man for the easy basket (like Virginia did to Duke on Saturday).

Coach K’s Duke basketball teams are famous for playing an intense “in-your-face” man-to-man defense.  On Saturday against Virginia, Duke’s players were being burned time and time again by back-cuts to the basket for easy buckets.  Coach K switched to a zone defense (gasp!) for much of the second half to stop the bleeding.  What’s up with that?

And finally this.  As Duke sank into a deep first half hole and struggled coming down the stretch, Duke’s fiery head coach hardly jumped out of his chair or came enticingly close to getting a technical foul to fire-up his players and the crowd.  He was nearly invisible along the sidelines on Saturday.  That’s not the Coach K we all know and (many of us) love.

I have a theory on what’s wrong.  Mike Krzyzewski achieved a big career goal early this season by winning his 1000th game at Duke.  By a large margin, he now has the most wins in Division I college basketball history.

In order to compete for talent with the Kentucky’s of the college basketball world, Coach K has begrudgingly elected to dip into the “One-and-done” pool of high school so-called elite players who simply want to build their resume and join the NBA at the first opportunity.  Like Kentucky, Duke is now increasingly signing players who have little desire to play as a team.  Many are unwilling to buy into the traditional blue-collar, hard-working team concept like Coach K’s teams have been known for.  It appears that Virginia has cornered that market in the ACC.  Duke’s new talent pool is merely passing through.

Though he may be fooling the ol’ Swampswami, Saturday’s subdued Coach K looked to me like someone who is turned-off by the lack of passion and work ethic that his “Hey, look at me!” one-and-done players are displaying.  I see a Coach K who may be lamenting that his days as a master teacher are nearing an end.  Yes, retirement.

Watch this clip from 2016 where Duke’s head coach for the past 38 years talks about when/how he plans to retire.

While observing Saturday’s game and the noticeable lack of passion along the Duke sidelines, I could have sworn Blue Devils’ head coach was daydreaming about the days when his players would come to Duke seeking an education and would play with the heart and effort that Virginia showed on Saturday.