Random observations as March Madness looms …
• Watching the final Big East conference tournament as we know it, I find myself a bit melancholy. I’ll miss greatly so many of the longtime rivalries I began watching in the early years of ESPN.
As a kid I became enamored with “The Garden,” and rivalries like those played between Syracuse with Pearl Washington and Raphael Addison against the likes of Georgetown with Patrick Ewing, Gene Smith and Michael Jackson. Yes, there will still be a Big East Conference, but the void left by so many schools moving on will take plenty of getting used to.
Selection Sunday beckons for 68 teams, featuring 31 automatic qualifiers. Track the conference tourneys (including the final Big East event under its current makeup) before March Madness tips off Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, with the First Four.
• Conference Championship Central
• Syracuse, after enduring some very rough waters early on at the beginning of Wednesday’s first-round game against Seton Hall righted the ship and went on to win. But Jim Boeheim’s 2012-2013 Cuse team has become a confounding one, to me. Through the first 20 or so games this season I truly felt the Orange were title contenders.
Since then however, this team has been a bit maddening. What happened? Well, there is some thought that this squad is just too guard/wing dependent and it just doesn’t have the ability to generate any offense from its bigs. Another thought regarding Syracuse’s struggles is that since the return from suspension of guard James Southerland the Orange’s chemistry has suffered. I believe it’s a combination of both. Cuse has talent, length and athleticism — but I question its overall toughness and ability to make enough shots.
• How big was Indiana’s win at Michigan last weekend in the Big Ten regular season finale? Well, after dropping games versus at Minnesota on Feb. 26 and home against Ohio State on March 5, the Hoosiers had lost two of three heading into the game versus the Wolverines in Ann Arbor
I was curious as to just how many teams had won national titles after losing three of its final four regular-season contests and did a little digging. Turns out, only one team in the past 35 years (UConn in 2011) had limped into the regular-season clubhouse and still managed to take the whole ball of wax. So by beating Michigan to go 2-2 during its final four regular-season Big Ten tilts, has disaster been averted and have the odds now swung in the Hoosiers’ favor? Well, not necessarily.
Interestingly enough, only four teams in the past 35 seasons have gone 2-2 in their last four regular season contests and still gone on to win the national championship. So stay tuned, Hoosier faithful.
• Gonzaga sure looked terrific in beating St. Mary’s early in the week. The Zags may very well be the best team in the country, but I don’t buy that they would have had a 30-2 record playing in the Big Ten or Big East. I’m pulling for Mark Few’s squad to make a run to Atlanta, but I’m skeptical.
• Boy, the SEC is bad this year.
• Boy, the ACC is bad this year.
• I recall watching Duke early this season and thinking, “This team is really good.” In fact, I told several friends early on that I believed Duke could win the whole thing this season. But I, like many folks, forgot just how much Ryan Kelly meant to Coach K and the Blue Devils.
Much has been made during the past week of Duke being 18-0 with Kelly in the lineup, but here’s the issue I have with the Dookies: Their bench is still awfully short. The Blue Devils are very starter-dependent. All five starters for Coach K’s team average more than 11.4 points. Reserve Amile Jefferson plays the most minutes for any Duke reserve (13.4 mpg) and averages the most points for the Blue Devils off the bench — an underwhelming 4.3 ppg.
Is this Duke team really built to win a national championship? What are the chances of the Blue Devils breezing through six hotly-contested NCAA tournament games without encountering foul trouble? I say, not good.
So many questions surround this 2012-2013 NCAA tourney. But it’s finally time to get some answers. Let’s get this thing started!
Rex Chapman played at Kentucky from 1986-88. He was a two-time All-SEC selection as well as an NABC All-American in 1988 before opting for the NBA Draft. He was the No. 1 choice — eighth overall — of Charlotte and played for the Hornets (1988-92), Washington Bullets (1992-95), Miami Heat (1995-96) and Phoenix Suns (1996-2000). Follow Rex on Twitter @rexchapman