Friday, January 20, 2006

Program cycles

It should be axiomatic that basketball programs will go through down periods, but most fans refuse to see things that way. The last four national champions all played in the NIT within three years of winning a their titles North Carolina (2005, NIT 2003), Connecticut (2004, NIT 2001), Syracuse (2003, NIT 2002), and Maryland (2002, NIT 2005). Now some of you might point out that Maryland is the only one of that group to play in the NIT after the winning a championship. This isn't true because Connecticut won its first championship in 1999 and was in the NIT two years later. It is also fair to point out that the last time that Maryland was stuck in the NIT prior to last year was 1990 and in the mean time all those schools had made a trip there while the Terps extended a string of 11 straight appearances.

All programs are eventually stuck with young teams that will struggle and it isn't just Maryland that will deal with large senior classes that will leave the team with little experience the following season. North Carolina is a perfect example of that this season. Ignore their current ranking, which is based mostly on reputation, because Carolina isn't one of the top 25 teams in the nation. It is uncertain if they will be among the top 34 at large teams come March after back to back losses to Miami and Virginia and flirting with disaster in a number of recent wins. If the Tarheels fade down the stretch they will have missed the NCAAs twice in the last four years.

Need other examples? Look at the struggles of Kansas and Kentucky. Kansas has already lost six games and was defeated at home by Kansas State. Kentucky has also lost six games already and has been embarrassed in Rupp Arena by Indiana. The Wildcats have already lost two home games in SEC play. Ashley Judd is not amused. If either team makes the NCAA tournament it won't be because they are one of the best 34 at large teams in the nation, it'll be because the SEC and Big 12 are so embarrassingly weak.

Arizona isn't quite as young as the previous trio but they do rely heavily on underclassmen. They also have six losses after being swept in a trip through Oregon. The Pac 10 is also so bad that they may make the tournament with a unworthy squad.

Georgia Tech went to the national semifinals two years ago if you recall. Now Paul Hewitt is forced to play a bunch of young kids who stand at 9-6 with only a faint hope of getting an NCAA bid.

Louisville lost a ton of experience and talent from their excellent 2005 squad and now are on an express elevator to the bottom of the Big East.

The NIT should start printing letters to some of those programs right now.

Next year Wake Forest and Duke will be in similar situations. Wake Forest will lose Justin Gray, Eric Williams and Trent Strickland. Skip Prosser, if he's not off in Cinncinati, will have the unenviable task of throwing his team in the hands of freshmen and sophomores. Duke will lose Sean Dockery, Sheldon Williams, JJ Redick and Lee Melchionni. I don't expect Duke to show up in the NIT but they won't be a team that will seriously challenge for a national title. It will resemble the 2003 team that got knocked out in the Sweet 16 more than likely.

Elite college football teams are expected to win every year. Commentators fret when Oklahoma's football factory goes 8-4 and "only" makes a 2nd tier bowl game against 10-1 Oregon. That is the nature of college football. It is much harder to accomplish that sustained excellence in college basketball. Without the depth that a college football coach can rely on, if the ratio was the same their would be almost 20 basketball scholarships instead of 13, it isn't possible to stock pile kids who can just step in as seniors without any disruption. Players like Drew Nicholas are the exception in college ball today.

How good would the average college football team be if you only had 57 scholarships and lost a quarter of the team in turnover every season? There would be no USC, no dynasties and there wouldn't be any point to a preseason top 25 poll, not that there is a point currently.

Consider all this and take some time to appreciate the accomplishment of getting back to the tournament year after year.

1 comment:

irwin robinson said...

outstanding and thought provoking oservations