JUST ABOUT THIS TIME last year, I took a close look at the major conferences, trying to deduce which teams were most likely to make the Final Four. I wrote something brilliant like I don't see any teams from the Southeastern Conference or Pac-10 that are good enough.
A few months later, Florida played UCLA for the championship, showing again that what goes down in late January often has little to do with what happens in late March. Making predictions when the bracket comes out is risky enough. Making them now can, as I found out, make one look rather foolish.
Even with several more weeks of games in the books, did anybody see Florida dominating the 2006 NCAA Tournament when it began?
The point is simple: Don't draw conclusions without all the evidence. Some teams already have peaked. Others are nowhere close to their peak. Some teams are hyped without reason. Others are ignored because of their jerseys.
As strong as the Big East was last season, who would have believed that none of the league's teams would make the Final Four? And that George Mason would.
Villanova, Connecticut, West Virginia and Georgetown were all in the Sweet 16. Surely, one had to get through. G-Town and WVU went out in that round after playing great, but losing. 'Nova and UConn were fortunate to survive before going out a step from the Final Four.
The Pac-10 appears very strong. Then, Arizona goes out and gets humiliated by North Carolina (playing without three in its normal rotation) at home.
Just about every team has flaws, even Wisconsin and UCLA. North Carolina and Florida appear to have the fewest weaknesses. Still, predictions in late January are perilous.
If you've been watching all along, start watching more closely. If you have been a casual viewer, you might be too far behind to catch up.
Don't fret, however. My bracket will be in the paper 2 days after Selection Sunday.
How many is too many?
With the new scheduling rules, a team playing in an exempt four-game in-season tournament can play as many as 32 regular-season games. If that team, say, goes on to play three games in its conference tournament, then somehow makes the national championship game, it would play 41 games, half the NBA schedule.
With most conference seasons near the midway point, it is instructive to note which teams have not lost a league game. It is also a perverse pleasure to check out teams that have not won a game.
The perfect are Winthrop (Big South), Wisconsin (Big Ten), Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial Athletic), Memphis (Conference USA) Penn (Ivy), Toledo (Mid-American West), Oral Roberts (Mid-Continent), Holy Cross (Patriot), Florida (SEC) and Texas A & M-Corpus Christi (Southland West).
The perfect opposites are North Florida (Atlantic Sun), East Carolina (C-USA), Princeton (Ivy), Iona (Metro Atlantic), Western Illinois (Mid-Con), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Mid-Eastern) and Arizona State (Pac-10).
I don't know about you, but I think we need to see a game between Florida (19-2) and North Florida (2-20). Maybe it could be played in Florida.
Please watch the Suns
All the control-freak college coaches should be made to watch tapes of the Phoenix Suns instead of staying up all night devising strategy. I can't watch coaches who feel the need to call a play every time down the court. They are boring, and so are their teams.
What is so wrong about believing in your players? And, if you think your players are dopes, that is your fault. You recruited them, and you have been coaching them. They are called players. How about letting them play?
The city deal
Villanova is still in good shape for an NCAA bid. If the Wildcats win the games they should win and grab one or two they don't figure to win, they will be fine.
I conceded the Ivy League to Penn a long time ago.
Drexel needs to get into the 20s and make a nice run in the CAA Tournament. What they don't need to do is lose in the CAA semis to a team other than VCU.
Saint Joseph's is not an NCAA team at the moment or even close to one. But the Hawks are intriguing because of the last two seasons. Two seasons ago, they were 11-9 after 20 games and finished 13-3. Last season, they were 10-12 after 22 games and finished 9-2. They are 12-8 at the moment.
La Salle and Temple are trying to qualify for the A-10 Tournament in Atlantic City.
With the A-10/CSTV deal ensuring that the league rivals the NHL for exposure, it is interesting to note that St. Joe's, which has been virtually nonexistent on TV this season, is on TV its next three games, Saint Louis (tomorrow, ESPN2), Dayton (Sunday, Comcast SportsNet) and Villanova (Tuesday, ESPN2).
Name from the past
See if this name rings a bell? Ayinde Ubaka. He is a senior guard at California who just became the Golden Bears' 35th 1,000-point scorer. On Dec. 20, 2003, in the Pete Newell Challenge in Oakland, Ubaka, then a freshman, had an open right corner three ball against Saint Joseph's at the buzzer. If it goes, there is no 27-0. It didn't go.
High school memories
Dana Pennett O'Neil's story on Pittsburgh's Mike Cook (Friends' Central) brought back memories of one of the great high school teams of all time. Cook's grandfather is Tom Hoover, who played briefly at Villanova. His high school teammates at Archbishop Carroll in Washington included John Thompson (Providence) and George Leftwich, who played with Wali Jones at Villanova.
People in the Baltimore-Washington area still talk reverently about that team. Hoover and Thompson were near 7 feet and Leftwich was a great guard. Can you imagine those three on a high school team almost 50 years ago? *
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