The big-boy conferences start their basketball tournaments today and Thursday. There seems to be more at stake this year as the conference tournament season hits than in previous years.
Before we get to the bubble teams that are trying to box out your Tennessee Vols or your UK Wildcats, we want to share an idea.
Try this out. Today should be the semifinals rather than the start of most of the tournaments. Cut a game or three off the regular season - like anyone would miss them - and move the conference tournaments forward a few days and space them better. The last conference title game would be on the Thursday with Selection Sunday on the following Sunday. This would accomplish several things:
1) Teams could enjoy actually winning a conference tournament title. Vandy won the SEC title last year, celebrated for about 45 minutes and then it was all about the Big Dance.
2) The selection committee could make the most-informed choices possible. It's not an every year occurrence like the year that Miss. State won the SEC tournament, but still.
3) Every conference title game could get prime-time play on a TV channel that is no worse than ESPN2. That would help most of the smaller conferences as much as/if not more than an NCAA tournament bid.
4) Think of the build-up and drama between the conclusion of the tournaments and Selection Sunday. This week has been the most enjoyable of the college hoops season so far, and a large part of that is the intrigue and debate about whether this team or that team has done enough to Dance. Let's extend that debate.
Ace columnist Mark Wiedmer covered some of this in today's TFP, but it's important to go over it again. We know the Vols resume. They have some big wins. They have a large number of losses. They started the season 11-10, but are 8-2 since and have looked as good as anyone in the SEC, especially at home.
We believe there is more work to be done, and the opportunity of Thursday - a date against dreadful South Carolina or equally tarnished Mississippi State - is survival. A loss Thursday dooms UT. We believe a win Thursday allows the Vols a chance Friday against Alabama to win and go dancing. That's the task, and for the last five weeks, these Vols have not shied from any challenge.
According to Joey Brackets (Side note: For the rest of today and tomorrow, we're going to give everyone an old-school gangster nickname like Joey Brackets. Deal? Deal.) the Vols are the first team out of the tournament as of this morning.
Here are the five at-large teams in front of UT according to Joey Brackets:
Temple (23-8 overall; 4-3 vs. top 50; Strength of schedule: 64th - Next game: Friday against UMass-George Washington winner)
Kentucky (21-10 overall; 2-4 vs. top 50' Strength of schedule:61st - Next game: Friday against Arkansas-Vandy winner)
Boise State (21-9 overall; 4-6 vs. top 50; Strength of schedule: 50th - Next game: Tonight vs. San Diego State, midnight)
LaSalle (21-8 overall; 2-3 vs. top 50: Strength of schedule: 81st - Next game: Friday against the Butler-Dayton winner)
Virginia (21-10 overall; 4-2 vs. top 50; Strength of schedule: 121st - Next game: Friday against the NC State-Va. Tech winner)
Yes, UT must take care of its BID-ness. But losses by any of the above five, is a win for the Vols.
The 5-at-10 loves the draft. You know this.
The NFL draft had its ancillary start Tuesday when the signing of free agents started.
There were a slew of of moves, and because this is sports and we're a sports professional (they pay us and everything... it's pretty neat), let's outline some winners and losers:
- Miami: Loved the additions of Mike Wallace and the reported signing of Dannell Ellerbe. Dolphins got faster on both sides of the ball, and Wallace is an elite-speed guy.
- Falcons fans: Tony Gonzalez coming back means the passing offense will be among the league's most dangerous. Yay.
- Joe Flacco's agent: After a magical month, Flacco got a record-setting contract that has apparently driven the Ravens front office to drink and let all the other players go. Of course, in the salary cap NFL, if the big pieces of the pie go to one guy, the rest of the team has to go looking for pie elsewhere. War Pie.
- The Baltimore Ravens: Wow, gone from the Super Bowl champs' roster are sack-leader Paul Kruger, Ray Lewis and Ellerbe from the LB corps, receiver Anquan Boldin and possibly safety Ed Reed. Not all of this is part of the monster deal that Flacco demanded, but it certainly has ripples. Maybe we should start calling him Joei Flacco, because while there's no 'I' in team, there certainly is some 'I' in Joei Flacco.
- The Buffalo Bills: The Bills cut quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick less than two years after signing him to a big-dollar deal and lost one of their best offensive linemen (Andy Levitre) to the Titans.
- The New Orleans Saints: The Saints were over the salary cap and were forced to part with starting tackle Jermon Bushrod, who signed with the Bears.
OK, you know who loves the draft? The 5-at-10 does. You knew this.
Well, tonight is a monster draft that has us somewhat puzzled.
No, not an early NCAA tournament team draft. Nope, we're not putting the finishing touches on our first mock draft. No sir, it's not a fantasy baseball draft.
It's a T-Ball draft for the league that includes the 5-year-old 5-at-10 tot. We've agreed to coach, and while there has not been a scouting combine and the game film is limited on the neighborhood's up-and-coming T-Ball class, there's monster stakes on the line.
Sure, this is the beginner league in which everyone bats. And yes, the two most important people are the coach that keeps them in the batting order and the momma that brings the snacks.
Still, this is a draft and we love the draft. (Side note: Agreeing to coach late in the process leaves a little trepidation along the lines of the old poker adage: "If you don't know who the sucker in the room is, it's you.")
We're in, and we're part Buttermaker, part Belichick. We're ready and even decided that our draft strategy is to go after pitching, pitching, pitching.
Wait? This is coach-pitch, and we're the coach.
Maybe we should draft speed, speed, speed. Thoughts?
- The Miami Heatles are rolling and have won 19 in a row. They are fun to watch. Every sports league/association needs a heavyweight, a black hat that needs to wet its beak at the expense of everyone else. Those heavys also are a target, a goal and a bull's eye for everyone else. It's a win-win for everyone, even if Miami is the only one winning. We promise that made sense when we started. War Heatles.
- Now that's what the Lakers envisioned when they signed Dwight Howard. In his return to Orlando, dude dropped bombs. Going all Dean Wormer on the Magic's Kingdom. Howard went for 39 points and 16 boards. That said, it's puzzling when guys who were somewhat struggling go ballistic on someone when they are obviously motivated. It begs the question: Dwight, why have you not been motivated before March 12th?
- While we're on an NBA rift: How do the Celtics lose to a rotten Charlotte team by 26 flippin' points?
- OK, as always, feel free to discuss an array of topics - especially any of the ones above - but here's our main question: The Big East tournament has annually been one of the best conference hoops events. The last is this week. We were kicking this around in the office, what's your all-time All-Big East hoops squad: We got Iverson at the point, Kemba Walker at the 2, Chris Mullin at the 3, Derrick Coleman at the power forward and Patrick Ewing in the middle.