Fast Break: R.I.P Kentucky, Lone Star State

March 18, 2013

Remember last April, when John Calipari's band of NBA rentals proved not only that you could win a national championship by relying almost exclusively on one- and two-year players, but also that it was now the most logical way to construct a team and Calipari was going to become The Irresistable Force?

Yeah, Kentucky plays at Robert Morris on Tuesday in the NIT.

Losing freshman big man Nerlens Noel was the death blow. With him, the Wildcats would be in the NCAA Tournament, and they would not be an easy out. But as I've been arguing since last spring, the general public never fully appreciated just how unusually good and mature that specific group of Wildcats was last year. The focus was all of Calipari's philosophy and because of it, so many people missed that Anthony Davises don't come along every year, that it's extremely difficult to get young guards to play consistently enough throughout the year to get you to a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, and it's just as difficult to get a collection of guys who barely know each other to fully come together between October and March.

Last season legitimized Calipari's method. But it didn't shift the paradigm of college basketball.

Hot mess with Texas

The Republic of Texas is great at a lot of things: football, Mexican food, building gigantic scoreboards.

And while nobody strongly associates Texas with basketball, it is one of the country's most powerful states when it comes to that sport, too. Basketball coaches from coast to coast recruit Dallas and Houston and spots in-between, and there have been years in which the trinity of Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor has made it seem like the state was taking over the basketball world.

And then: 2013.

For the first time since 1977, no team from the state of Texas was invited to the NCAA Tournament. And that's a lot of teams. In the Big 12 it's Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU. It's Texas A&M in the SEC. It's SMU, UTEP, Rice and Houston in Conference USA. Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern in the SWAC. Lamar, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the Southland. Texas State and North Texas in the Sun Belt. Houston Baptist in the Great West.

There are 26 million people living in Texas. That's more than 8 percent of the total U.S. population, and wasn't enough to come up with a single participant in the most inclusive sporting event in American sports.

Shut out like a dog that got sprayed by a skunk — every one of them.

Part of this is a matter of fluky chance. Until this year, the Longhorns had made the NCAA Tournament every season since 1998. Texas A&M made it every year between 2006 and 2011. Baylor went in 2008, 2010 and 2012, Texas Tech in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007. The rest of the teams in the state have to win their conference championships to get in, generally speaking, but considering the number of Texas schools in those smaller leagues, the odds aren't bad. That's how Lamar got in last season. The odds are against this happening again anytime soon.

But you can't talk honestly about the state of basketball in the state of Texas without mentioning that the Lone Star State has more than its share of coaches who are perceived to be underachieving.

Whether it's fair or not is a discussion for another day, but UT's Rick Barnes and Baylor's Scott Drew are widely regarded as good recruiters who don't seem to be able to coax that talent to its full expression. Billy Kennedy at A&M took over a team that was consistently among the top four finishers in the Big 12 and was picked to win the Big 12 in 2011-12, and has gone 11-25 in conference play since. And then there is the utter debacle that is the Texas Tech athletic department.

You can find explanations or excuses for all of this, but parsing that out is for another day.

Who got lucky/Who got screwed

Lucky: Ohio State

Oh, baby, Ohio State. This had to have been the reward for the Big Ten having such a good season. The Buckets get plunked into a West region that has Gonzaga as the No. 1 seed, New Mexico as the No. 3 seed and nobody that has won a national title since the 1990s.

Screwed: Duke

Oh, be quiet. I know nobody feels sorry for Duke, but that doesn't mean the Blue Devils didn't get catch a tough break by being a No. 2 seed then have that break compounded by being placed in the Midwest region, which is the toughest of all, the kind of region in which the Pac-12 champion is a No. 12 seed.

Lucky: Arizona

The Pac-12 clearly got no respect from the selection committee, but the sixth-seeded Wildcats caught a break by being placed in a pod that would have them facing third-seeded New Mexico in the second round. The other No. 3 seeds in this tournament are Michigan State, Florida and Marquette. Things could be a lot worse for Arizona.

Ole Miss/Oregon

Oregon won the Pac-12 and Ole Miss went 26-8, finished second in the SEC regular season and won the SEC tournament. Both of those teams are No. 12 seeds.


Nobody's saying UNLV isn't better than Cal. The Rebels already won at Cal earlier in the year. But the Rebels went 10-6 in the Mountain West and didn't play any nonconference teams that were ranked at the time. So Cal gets an obvious revenge game in the first round against a team that lost to Boise State, Fresno State and Air Force. Not a bad draw.

Screwed: North Carolina

Poor Roy Williams. The guy is getting sent to Kansas City, which is easily the most hostile place he could have been sent. And if he wins his first game he'll have to face his old school, Kansas, in its own back yard. Williams is 0-2 against his former school.

Telling stats

13.6 – Average margin of victory for Big 12 co-champion Kansas over Big 12 co-champion Kansas State, which the Jayhawks beat three times, including a 70-54 win in the Big 12 tournament championship game.

23 – Scoring average for Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson over his last five games, all Rebels' wins. He averaged 15 field goal attempts in those five games.

They said it

"I guess that's just a shot at all the other coaches out here. They're losers. They didn't win this tournament, we did." – Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, on winning SEC tournament MVP honors after being named second-team All-SEC by the league's coaches last week.

"The sense of humor is way different. When I got here, people were trying to teach me not to say some of the words that I say because it's apparently politically incorrect. The main thing in New Zealand is that nobody cares." – Pittsburgh big man Steven Adams, a native of New Zealand, to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on adjusting to American culture.
Player of the year watch

If you've been reading this column all year, you know well my fondness for Trey Burke, just as you know my reluctance to tout anyone on Indiana for this thing, because the Hoosiers are so balanced. This puts me in a difficult position rhetorically, because that doesn't leave a lot of strong candidates.  

The  more I think about it, the more Indiana's Victor Oladipo makes sense as the choice. He's probably Indiana's best overall player, he's possibly the best defensive player in the country, and he's way better than anybody else I've seen in college basketball this year at affecting games without the ball.

He's the only player in the country whose game is genuinely unstoppable. How do you deal with Victor Oladipo? You don't. You just hope it isn't enough to beat you (but it probably is).

Ups and Downs

Up: Ohio State
Has any team improved more from the middle of February to the middle of March? Ohio State beat Michigan State twice, Indiana once and Wisconsin once over the last month.

Down: Texas
Quick: What does the CBI stand for? Waiting … waiting …. Time's up: College Basketball Invitational. It's College Basketball Invitational.

It's a little bit weird that Colorado is in the tournament, given how little respect the Pac-12 got from the selection committee (Pac-12 champion Oregon was a No. 12 seed) and that they lost three of their last five games to finish with 11 losses. But the Buffaloes are in as a 10, making their second tournament appearance in a row after a nine-year drought.

Down: Michigan
Michigan fans complain about this team's lack of toughness, and I'm unwilling to argue against that.

Crystal ball

Ole Miss beats Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, making this the best season in Rebels history.

N.C. State loses to Temple in the round of 64, ruining millions of brackets.

Iowa State makes 14 3-pointers to beat Notre Dame, then goes 5-for-27 from the 3-point line against Ohio State.