NCAA BK

BURLISON notes: Pods created unfair advantages

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Frank Burlison

 
   
 
OK, it's official. I don't like the NCAA's new "pod system" that was designed to, when possible, place teams in regional sites as close to their campuses as possible, thereby cutting down on the amount of traveling their fans and family members would have to do in order to watch them play. Granted, the system that placed Maryland in the Washington, D.C., MCI Center, Pittsburgh in the Duquesne University Mellon Center (about two miles from Pitt's campus), Illinois in the United Center and Texas in the American Airlines Center in Dallas, enabled those near and dear to those teams to watch them play in the first and second rounds without having to fork out air fare. But — and I'm not implying that those teams wouldn't have beaten their opposition if the games were played elsewhere — the situation created an overwhelming "home-court" advantage for those teams. Call me overly idealistic, but I think NCAA tournament games should be played in as neutral a setting as possible. And dare we ask Cal coach Ben Braun if he thought there was anything "neutral" about playing Pitt in a building where most of the fans probably also have Steelers and/or Penguins season tickets, too?

Best of the best

There were a number of marvelous individual performances during the first- and second-round games. Here's my perspective on the 10 best, by players whose teams advanced to the Sweet 16:
  • Caron Butler (Connecticut) and Tayshaun Prince (Kentucky), both of whom will be playing in the East Region Friday night in Syracuse: Did any players do more to carry their teams during their second-round wins?
  • Dan Gadzuric (UCLA), whose team will be playing Missouri Thursday night in a West Region game in San Jose: There isn't a true center playing any better in the country right now.
  • Luke Ridnour (Oregon), who will lead the Ducks against Texas Friday night in a Midwest Region semi in Madison: Some day he's going to be considered the best point guard in college basketball. And the thing is, he might already be worthy of the tag.
  • Antonio Gates (Kent State), whose team takes on Pittsburgh in a East semifinal in Lexington: Remember when Larry Johnson starred at UNLV in 1989-91? This guy is a left-handed version of him.
  • Juan Dixon (Maryland), whose Terps face Kentucky Friday in Syracuse: Smooth — oh, so smooth.
  • Jermaine Dearman (Southern Illinois), who will try to slow down Butler and Connecticut Friday night in Syracuse: OK — raise your hands if you had a clue who he was before his team beat Texas Tech Friday night.
  • Aaron McGhee (Oklahoma), who will help the Sooners try to knock off Arizona Thursday night in San Jose: He's very polished —and darn fierce, too — in the low post.
  • Kirk Hinrich (Kansas), who will likely guard, and be guarded by, Frank Williams when the Jayhawks play Illinois Friday night in Madison: Has anyone ever looked that quick and active two days after a severely sprained ankle?
  • Jared Jeffries (Indiana), who will probably go eyeball-to-eyeball with Mike Dunleavy when the Hoosiers play Duke Thursday night in Lexington: If he weren't almost assuredly NBA-bound, he could start collecting Big Ten MVP trophies.

    Bouncing around the country

  • The Florida State coaching job is Leonard Hamilton's to turn down and he isn't expected to say "no" to the Seminoles. The school could make an announcement on its new coach as early as this week. Hamilton took the University of Miami to the 2000 Sweet 16 before being hired — and fired late last season — as the Washington Wizards' coach.
  • Nolan Richardson — who believes, apparently, that he is still the coach at Arkansas — and former Chicago Bulls and Iowa State coach (and UTEP assistant) Tim Floyd are being mentioned as candidates to be the next coach at the University of New Mexico. Arizona State coach Rob Evans has also been mentioned in connection with the opening in Albuquerque but it isn't likely he'll leave a program that has made solid strides over the past couple of seasons and could be ready for an NCAA tournament breakthrough next season.
  • Brian Morrison, a 6-3 sophomore who averaged 7.1 points per game as a part-time starter, bid farewell to the North Carolina program. At least from a playing time perspective, it's a wise move on his part. With McDonald's All-America Rashad McCants bound for Chapel Hill, and 6-2 freshman Melvin Scott already in the program, Morrison would have faced a difficult challenge in seeing significant minutes.
  • The decision of 6-10 junior Marcus Haislip of Tennessee to turn pro wasn't surprising in the least. Haislip, along with 6-9 sophomore Chris Wilcox of Maryland and 6-6 sophomore Caron Butler of Connecticut, has done more to enhance his NBA stock than any other player in college basketball the past couple of months. Wilcox and Butler will also enter the draft and, along with Haislip, are very probable lottery (top 13) selections next June.
  • Brett Nelson, a junior guard from Florida, came into the season planning on turning pro (in fact, McDonald's All-America guard Anthony Roberson committed to the school last summer with Nelson's departure in mind) this spring. He didn't have nearly the season most expected of him — for that matter, neither did the entire team — but scouts are still intrigued by his size (right at 6-4) and remarkable quickness and shooting range. But, like anyone else who watched him this season, they were also bewildered at times by his shot selection and passing decisions. Senior writer Frank Burlison can be reached at his e-mail address, fburlison@foxsports.com.
  • Tagged: Oregon, Arizona, UCLA, Washington, Arizona State, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, Long Beach State, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Niagara, Southern Illinois, St. Francis (PA), Butler, Duquesne, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa State, Alcorn State, UTEP, UNLV, New Mexico

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