Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Here’s another reason why the Big Ten is a very attractive option for schools in other conferences — it takes its monetary proceeds from events like the NCAA Tournament, pools them, and then splits them equally among all 11 teams in the conference.

This article from the Columbus Dispatch explains that, for every team to make the 2010 NCAA Tournament, and for every win by a Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament, the conference will get $222, 502.  Every one of the 11 schools in the Big Ten therefore will get $20,227 for each of the five teams to make the Tournament and for each of the nine wins the Big Ten teams have achieved so far in the Tournament.  That totals to close to $300,000 for each school, which is a nice thing to add to the bottom line in these tough economic times.  And because the Big Ten splits the proceeds equally, rather than following more of an “eat what you kill” methodology as some conferences do, even poor Northwestern, which has never qualified for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, gets the same portion of tournament-related money as does perennial NCAA Tournament participant Michigan State.

Most of the non-athletic news about colleges these days is about money, about cuts in state subsidies and tuition hikes.  (Ohio State, for example, recently announced an 7 percent tuition hike after holding the line on tuition for three years.)  Is it any wonder that Big Ten schools are seriously considering expansion of the conference as a means of (relatively) painlessly increasing revenue?  And, should it really be a surprise that schools in other conferences are hoping they get the invitation to join a conference that both generates lots of revenue from its fans and athletic teams and then splits it equally?

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont.)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is (Cont)

Keep The Big Ten As It Is

Thanks For The Memories

Last night the Buckeyes fell short in their bid for the Elite 8, falling to Tennessee 76-73.  It was a tough, back-and-forth game, but ultimately Tennessee’s outright dominance of the boards, free throw shooting, and flypaper defense on Buckeye sharpshooter Jon Diebler carried them to a narrow victory.  The Volunteers deserve credit for playing a tough game, beating a very good team, and earning their first trip ever to the Elite 8.

The Buckeyes and fans celebrate after beating Illinois

As for Ohio State, we hoped they would win, but they didn’t — and now their season is suddenly over.  Although it ended with a loss (a result that will happen for all but one team in the NCAA Tournament) that fact should not detract from an excellent season.

Evan Turner, who played his heart out last night, clearly is one of the best players in the country. Buckeyes fans will long remember his excellent play this year and his gritty and speedy return from a serious back injury; we will recall with special relish his last-second three-pointer to stun Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.  William Buford and David Lighty both stepped up their games this year, on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, all the while playing virtually every minute of every game for the short-handed Buckeyes.  Dallas Lauderdale also improved his game and was an intimidating shot-blocking force on defense.  And although Jon Diebler had a difficult game last night, his pinpoint three-point shooting  was a key ingredient that helped propel Ohio State on its end-of-the-season run to a share of the Big Ten regular season championship, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the Sweet 16 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Kudos, too, to Coach Thad Matta and his staff for producing an exciting season and a team of young men who were fine representatives of The Ohio State University.  Coaching at the major college level is not easy — Coach Matta just makes it look that way.

The Tennessee Press And The Elite 8

David Lighty

Tonight the Buckeye basketball team plays for a spot in the Elite 8.  Standing in their way is the Tennessee Volunteers, the only team in the country this year to beat both Kansas and Kentucky — generally regarded by the pundits, at least, as the two best teams in the land.  Tennessee and Ohio State have a bit of a rivalry going; they played twice in 2007, including a come-from-behind victory by the Buckeyes in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, and another regular season game in 2008 won by Tennessee.

Tennessee plays the press, which is not a style Ohio State has seen much during the regular season.  For the Buckeyes, the press will present  significant challenges.  Evan Turner, as the point guard, will have to work harder to get the ball upcourt and watch for the trap; David Lighty will probably do more ball-handling in the backcourt as a result.  If they Buckeyes can break the press, they will need to take advantage.  Jon Diebler will have to get to good spots and knock down open three-pointers, and William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale will need to finish if the Buckeyes can get an advantage on the break.  Because the Buckeyes typically don’t play many players fatigue could be a factor, and any foul trouble could be a serious problem.

To advance in the NCAA Tournament you need to beat the best teams around, and Tennessee definitely belongs in that category.  The Tournament also requires teams to adjust to different styles, like Tennessee’s press, if they want to move forward.  I expect that Thad Matta and his staff have worked hard this week on schemes to beat the press.  Tonight we’ll see if that work bears fruit.

A Buck Back Update

We’re heading into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and I’ve reached a crucial point in the Buck Back.  I’ve netted 7 bucks so far and have two teams left — third-round selection Xavier and sixth-round selection Washington.  They both play tonight, so by the time the sun rises tomorrow I could be out of the Buck Back altogether, before we even reach the weekend.  That would be embarrassing.

Washington has a tough test, against West Virginia.  The Mountaineers are a balanced, athletic team that beat the Buckeyes earlier this season.  Xavier takes on Kansas State, a team that has flown under the radar in the tournament.  Both West Virginia and Kansas State are number 2 seeds.

Let’s go, Huskies and Musketeers!  Keep me in the hunt!

Edited to add:  Well, it happened as I feared, and the Xavier double-overtime loss to K State was particularly brutal.  And so this year’s Buck Back comes to a close with me finishing ignominiously $1 underwater.

Big Lift For Big Ten Basketball

The Big Ten is feeling pretty good about basketball these days.  With three teams — Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue — in the Sweet 16, the Big Ten has more teams still in contention than any other conference.  For a moment, at least, the Big Ten has quieted critics who say that the league pales in comparison to the Big East or the ACC, that Big Ten teams play a boring, bruising style that is not attractive to fans or talented players, and that Big Ten teams underperform in big games.

I’m not sure that you can conclude that the Big Ten was the strongest conference this year based on its performance in the NCAA Tournament, any more than you can argue that the league has sucked in the past based on prior tournament disappointments.  The NCAA Tournament often boils down to individual team match-ups that don’t allow for sweeping conclusions about entire leagues.  Still, it is gratifying for the Big Ten teams to perform well in the spotlight, and particularly meaningful because Michigan State and Purdue overcame significant injuries in winning their games to advance.

The reality is that the Big Ten plays good, solid basketball and features a number of tough, hard-nosed players who don’t quit.  The fact that most Big Ten teams score in the 50s and 60s, and not in the 70s and 80s, does not detract from the high level of play and fine coaching.  Perhaps, with this NCAA Tournament, basketball fans outside the Midwest are starting to realize that.

A Sweet Week

Dr. Science came over to watch the game yesterday, and while munching on Hills pizza and other goodies we watched the Ohio State men’s team beat Georgia Tech, 75-66, to advance to the Sweet 16.  The Buckeyes were led by Evan Turner, who bounced back from a subpar first-round game to lead the Buckeyes in scoring, Jon Diebler, who repeatedly hit three-pointers in the second half to build the Buckeyes’ lead, and David Lighty, whose fearless drives to the bucket and tough defense helped to keep the Yellow Jackets at bay as the game drew to a close.  Dallas Lauderdale was a stalwart force in the middle and William Buford contributed 9 points and 8 rebounds.  The win was a true team effort.

Jon Diebler

The Buckeyes next will play Tennessee on Friday night.  In the meantime, they get to enjoy a week of extra basketball, of recognition that this has been a season of great accomplishment for the team and its players, and of intense focus on the next match-up that could prove to be the gateway to even greater achievement.  For fans like me, this week is like a surprise present.  No one takes advancing to the Sweet 16 for granted, so when it happens you just enjoy basking in the glow of the team’s success and participating in a bonus week of happy basketball chatter with other fans.

Of all the fine basketball teams in the nation, only 16 are still alive and competing for the NCAA championship.   When your team is one of those 16 teams, it is a sweet week indeed.  Go Buckeyes!

Shooting For The Sweet Sixteen

The goal for the OSU men’s basketball team is simple:  win today’s game and advance to the Sweet 16.  They will be facing a difficult test in Georgia Tech, a tough, athletic, ACC-hardened team, so there should be no question of overconfidence or looking past a small-conference opponent.  Having seen Kansas shocked by Northern Iowa (a result which, incidentally, dealt a death blow to my Buck Back hopes) and Villanova shocked by St. Mary’s, the Buckeyes — and every higher seed — should be mentally focused and ready for the challenge.

Every team but one ends their season with a disappointing loss, and therefore college basketball fans have to define success in a reasonable way.  Everyone wants to win the Tournament, but only one team can.  I don’t think that means that every other team should be viewed as a failure.

In Ohio State’s case, it has been a very successful season to this point.  The Buckeyes overcame the adversity of the injury to Evan Turner and a resulting slow start in the Big Ten, recovered to reel off a series of wins and tie for the Big Ten regular season championship, won the Big Ten Tournament, and garnered enough national respect to receive a number two seed in the NCAA Tournament.  At this point, you just hope that the team continues the high quality of play that has characterized the team’s effort over the past few weeks, and achieves the positive results that should come from doing so.  Winning today and making it to the Sweet Sixteen would go a long way toward making that hope a reality.

Five Bucks (And Counting — I Hope)

First round play in the NCAA Tournament ended last night, and I’ve got five bucks to show for it.  My first, second, and third round picks (Kansas, Texas A&M, and Xavier, respectively) all won, my fourth and fifth round picks (Texas and Florida) lost in heartbreak fashion in overtime, and I got pleasant surprise wins from the sixth and seventh round picks (Washington and Murray State).  Four of my teams were involved in “buzzer beater”-type games, and two won and two lost — which seems like a fair result.

Isaiah Thomas of the Washington Huskies

One interesting thing about the Buck Back is that it can turn on a dime.  You can be sitting pretty with lots of teams still in play and, a day later, be out of the competition totally.  This year, after the first round, the leader has seven bucks with six teams still playing (the lowest-selected team to win a game, in this case the Ohio University Bobcats, nets you two bucks), two players have five bucks, two have four bucks, two have three bucks, and the Purple Raider is bringing up the rear with two bucks.

Of my remaining teams, the one that was the biggest surprise to me was Washington, which seems to have a lot of quick, rangy, capable players and a good point guard.  I’m hoping that they can add another buck to my total when they face off against New Mexico today.

The Goal Is The Second Round

The NCAA tournament has started, and already there have been some real surprises.  Murray State knocked off Vanderbilt — thank you, Racers, from the bottom of my Buck Back heart! — and second seed Villanova was taken into overtime by number 15 seed Robert Morris.

I think there are two reasons for such surprises.  The first reason is that there is tremendous balance in college basketball.  Lower-seeded small conference teams may not get the glamour of ongoing national attention during the season, but often they have one or two very good players, senior leadership, and helpful tournament experience.  If the good players get hot, they can carry a team for a few games.  In contrast, the higher-seeded, big conference teams often lack NCAA Tournament experience and seasoning.  In the NCAA Tournament, keeping a cool head and running your offense in the clutch seems to count for a lot, and knowing how to deal with tournament pressure and distractions counts for even more.

The second reason for the upsets, in my view, is that the players on the higher-seeded teams may be focused on the matchups that could be coming in a few days — the hypothetical, later-round contests that the talking heads argue about after the tournament bracket is announced.  The players may be thinking about who they might be facing, don’t focus on the team they actually are playing, and then find themselves in a tough contest against a good, gutty team that they aren’t mentally prepared to handle.

Let’s hope Ohio State avoids this scenario.  I’m not sure they fell prey to the syndrome last year, when they lost to Siena in the first round, but that experience should have taught them a lesson.  This year’s first-round opponent, U.C. Santa Barbara, is a good team that must be approached with deadly seriousness. Ohio State’s goal should be simple:  by hook or by crook, get to the second round.

The Buck Back Begins

Last year I wrote a bit about the Buck Back, the weird, hybrid pool and fantasy-type draft we have when the NCAA Basketball Tournament begins.  The linked post explains the rules, to the extent they exist.  Basically eight people put in eight bucks and select all of the teams in the NCAA Tournament through a serpentine draft, and each time one of your teams wins you win a buck back.

My 2010 Buck Back grid

This year I drew the ace from the deck and got the first pick — which is good and bad.  You get to pick what you consider to be the best team — or at least the team most likely to win it all, given the draw — but then don’t draft again until the 16th selection.  I chose Kansas for my first pick, and then followed two simple rules for my remaining picks:  (1) choose the best available school, preferably from a tough conference, that has some prior NCAA experience; and (2) try to balance your teams to end up with two teams in each bracket.  I did a decent job following the first rule, but failed miserably on the second.  In order, my draft was Kansas (pick 1), Texas A&M (pick 16), Xavier (pick 17), Texas (pick 32), Florida (pick 33), Washington (pick 48), Murray State (pick 49) and East Tennessee State (pick 64).  (When you draft first, your last pick is the last team left.)  I ended up with 1 team in the Midwest regional, 1 in the South regional, and 3 each in the West and East regionals, which makes me uncomfortable.

In retrospect, I’m a bit skeptical of my drafting approach, but this year’s draft was complicated by the number 4 seed given to Purdue.  With the gut-wrenching season-ending injury to Robbie Hummel, and E’Twan Moore coming up gimpy in the Minnesota game — a game where Purdue was able to put up only 11 points in the first half — Buck Back participants were very skeptical of the Boilermakers’ ability to win even one buck by beating Siena.  The Boilers fell all the way down to the 24th pick whereas, if you were picking strictly by seeding, a number 4 seed would be picked no later than number 16.

I should know early whether my Buck Back team blows.  Florida plays the first game in the tournament tomorrow, with a 12:20 p.m. tip, and 6 of my 8 teams play Thursday games.

No Whining Permitted!

Ohio State won the Big Ten Tournament today, beating Minnesota handily with a second-half blitz, and now the Buckeyes have been seeded second in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament.  Already some Ohio State fans are complaining that the Buckeyes have been put into the toughest regional, that other teams have been given easier roads to the Final Four, and so forth.

I hate this kind of whining.  Enough already!  Take the bracket as it has been provided, play the team in front of you, and win, and soon the road to success will be apparent. There are lots of tough teams out there, and saying that you are playing the toughest is likely just to psych you out.

Fortunately, I don’t think the Ohio State coaching staff or players are much for whining.  They played tough, hard-nosed basketball in the Big Ten Tournament, and if they can keep that up in the NCAA Tournament, they will be just fine.  Their first game is Friday, against the Gauchos of U.C. Santa Barbara.