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College hoops mailbag: Ready for action

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College hoops mailbag: Ready for action
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Jim Calhoun and UConn brought the national championship trophy home to the Big East

Even though conference realignment talk continues to dominate the conversation in college sports, most of this week’s emails involved on-court matters, a sign that fans are itching for the beginning of basketball season. Here are my responses to some of your questions.

Big East for real?

In your conference rankings you said, “The Big East may be even tougher than last season …” It would almost have to be, since it wasn’t tough last season at all. The SEC crushed them then and will crush them again this season. The NCAA tournament ground them up like beef and will again this season. How many years in a row do they have to get punked before you realize they aren’t the top conference?

Ben H
No location given

The NCAA tournament “ground up” the Big East last season, huh? Were the rabbit ears on your television set not working during the national championship game?


Big 12 should be proactive

I have a problem with the Big 12 just standing by and letting the other conferences steal teams from them. Why not go out and get the right teams from other conferences? I would go to Iowa and Arkansas and ask them to join the Big 12. It makes more sense to have regional conferences than a conference with teams scattered all over the country. It would get the rivals together. Iowa and Iowa State, Texas and Arkansas as well as Kansas and Kansas State and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. With those two teams (Iowa and Arkansas) they don't need Texas A&M. If they want to get to 12 teams again they could add TCU or Houston. With this Big 12, no conference could compare in any sport.

Kinney
Nashville

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I like your idea, especially when it comes to Arkansas. I’d love to see the Razorbacks renew some of their old Southwest Conference rivalries. Unfortunately the school doesn’t agree. Various reports have indicated that the Big 12 contacted Arkansas within recent weeks about joining the league. The school said it wasn’t interested. As far as getting other top-notch programs to hop on board … Well, let’s just say the Big 12 hasn’t made itself look all that attractive lately. Why would a school want to leave a stable situation in one conference to join a league that continues to make headlines for in-fighting? The schools in the conference have certainly come to resemble a dysfunctional bunch.


Roscoe Smith deserves better

Why don’t you ever mention Roscoe Smith when talking about Connecticut?

Tony
Baltimore

Great point. Smith had a solid freshman season for the Huskies and played a vital role in them winning the national championship. He averaged 28 minutes during the last four games of the NCAA tournament. Even though his numbers didn’t compare to those of Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi, Smith played his role, snared some key rebounds and came up with some big blocks (he had four against Butler).


ACC better than advertised

I am a rabid ACC fan. After watching the ACC be slighted for what seems like the past 10 years in favor of other conferences, I have come to a simple conclusion – the rest of the nation is jealous, as the ACC is the most tradition rich and successful basketball conference in the history of college basketball. No matter what bandwagon writers spout year after year, the ACC stands up to the rest of those conferences when things matter. Top to bottom, there is not a more competitive league. You put Alabama, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State in the ACC and they’d finish in the middle of the pack. No doubt in my mind. They’d struggle to finish fifth or sixth behind Miami, Virginia, Maryland, Florida State, etc. Face it – the competition is better. So when you put the ACC below the SEC and the Big 12 and the Big Ten in your conference rankings, us ACC fans know it's really meant as wishful thinking rather than a valid opinion. Because when you're the best, you always remember that haters are gonna hate. See you boys come March.

Thomas
No location given

All conferences go through cold spells. Unfortunately, it’s the ACC’s turn. The league simply isn’t that good right now outside of Duke and North Carolina. Any of the four SEC teams you mentioned would finish no worse than third in this season’s ACC. I’m sure it won’t be long, though, until the conference gets back on track. There has been a lot of coaching turnover in the league the last few seasons, which is one of the reasons for the temporary decline. Eight of the league’s 12 teams will open the 2011-12 season with either a first or second-year coach.


Shall Boilers, FSU dance?

Tell me how Purdue – which lost three starters from an NCAA tournament team that got blown out by VCU – is predicted by you to be in the dance, but a Florida State team that took VCU to overtime in the Sweet 16 is listed as a bubble team despite losing just one player. Florida State has made the tournament three years in a row. Also, only two ACC teams?

Glenn Cole
No location given

Purdue was a No. 3 seed that spent most of last season ranked among the top five teams in the country. Florida State barely squeaked into the NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed. Just because they won a few NCAA tournament games doesn’t make them a “lock” to get in this season – especially after losing Chris Singleton. And I’m not saying only two teams will make the NCAA tournament. I’m just saying that there are only two “locks.” Outside of Duke and North Carolina, every team in the ACC is a question mark. I’m sure the league will probably get four or five teams in. Florida State, Clemson and Miami probably stand the best chance beyond the Tar Heels and Blue Devils.

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The case for K-State

Why isn’t Kansas State listed among your projected NCAA tournament teams? Yes, they lost Jacob Pullen and Wally Judge, but with Rodney McGruder, Will Spradling, Jamar Samuels, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and Shane Southwell they will contend for the Big 12 title this year. Baylor has to keep its team on the court and out of trouble before they can be the team that everyone expects them to be. KU lost so much talent from a year ago including Josh Selby, who was injured most of the year and then went pro after his freshman year. Texas will also have a lot of talent to replace as they lost three first-round picks to the NBA. Texas A&M will have a good team along with Missouri, but Missouri lost their coach and that could hurt them. Going to and watching every K-State game last year, I can tell you that they will beat expectations and be in the field for the big dance next March. I like Baylor's talent but they need to control their players off the court before they can succeed. K-State had some off-court problems last year that cost us at least two games against Florida and UNLV. Big 12 basketball will be a lot of fun this year and more competitive this year without Nebraska and Colorado.

Charles
Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Thanks for the breakdown of the Big 12. Kansas State is an intriguing team. With the way the Wildcats play defense, I’m sure they’ll be competitive. But it’s hard to see them finishing in the top half of the league after losing Pullen and Curtis Kelly. Pullen was the best player in the Big 12 toward the end of last season and Kelly was very good, as well. Who is going to replace them? The players you mentioned are nice complementary pieces, but are any of them stars? It’ll be interesting to follow, that’s for sure.


Young Illini worth watching

Jason, still enjoying your articles. No mention of Illinois's incoming class this year? Definitely a top 10 class and arguably the best class (at least on paper) that Illinois has ever had. Where is the love? McCamey, Davis and Tisdale were good but were they ever consistent? Davis had the best year (of the three) last year and was pretty much snubbed. I think Illinois deserved just a little more ink.

Bob Leahy
Boulder, Colo.

Rivals.com ranked the Illini class No. 11 (although it could jump into the top 10 now that three members of St. John’s’ third-ranked class failed to qualify academically). There are four Chicago kids in this year’s six-player haul. Remember, though, that unless he’s a one-and-done caliber player, it’s rare for a freshman to come in and make an immediate impact. It takes them a while to adjust. So temper your expectations for this group – at least when it comes to the 2011-12 season. A year from now it wouldn’t surprise me if Illinois was back in the preseason top 25.


The fall of the Jayhawks

You think Kansas will be considerably worse! How many more times does Bill Self need to prove himself? Kansas will go 2-1 in Hawaii and then beat Kentucky in New York. Mark it down. And Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson. Nine-deep, great defense and Coach Self again!

John Ranson
Freeport, Ill.

Kansas went 35-3 last season with Marcus and Markieff Morris, Brady Morningstar, Josh Selby and Tyrel Reed. Those players are all gone, and the Jayhawks have replaced them with a transfer (Kevin Young) that averaged 9.1 points at Loyola Marymount and a 29th-ranked recruiting class that is void of players who will make a significant impact as freshmen. Yet you’re telling me you think they’ll go 35-3 again despite a schedule that includes Ohio State, Kentucky, Georgetown, Baylor, Missouri, Texas and Texas A&M? Make sure you write back at the end of the season.


The big question

Jason. Interesting that the Rivals.com Class of 2011 doesn’t include any 7-footers. I realize the college game has trended toward guard play, but that doesn’t mean the tall players just disappear, does it?

Bill
Galt, Calif.

They do seem tougher to find – but they haven’t totally disappeared. A few 7-footers to watch this season: Tyler Zeller of North Carolina, Dewayne Dedmon of USC, Meyers Leonard of Illinois, Fab Melo of Syracuse and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts of Kansas State.


In search of Atlantis

In your column about pre-conference tournaments, I see a pretty glaring omission: The Battle 4 Atlantis. The field includes two teams definitely headed for the NCAA tournament in Florida State and Connecticut, the defending national champion. The two are favored to meet in the finals, which would be an intriguing matchup. It’s a shame a TV deal hasn’t been locked up. The other contenders are respectable programs, as well. Harvard narrowly missed the tournament last year and should be good once again. Central Florida, a 20-win team last season, is certainly on the rise. Bobby Cremins and the College of Charleston Cougars are trending in the right direction and should be a favorite in the Southern Conference. Lastly, UNC-Asheville should be the favorite again in the Big South. The seventh and eighth teams are two of the most storied programs in college hoops: UMass and Utah. I’d have this tournament ahead of the Charleston Classic and the 76 Classic, easily. And probably ahead of the Legends Classic and Puerto Rico Tip-Off, as well.

Kevin
Houston

The Battle 4 Atlantis definitely should’ve been included in the top 10. Not a lot of top 25-caliber teams in the field beyond UConn and Florida State. But the parity in this tournament should make it incredibly entertaining. Too bad we won’t get to watch it.


Rock, chalk, ACC

The gentleman who mentioned Kansas going to the ACC and I are like-minded. If KU were in the ACC it would immediately create the No.1 NCAA basketball conference. The television dollars for KU vs. North Carolina and Duke alone should be a staggering amount. Also the travel costs to the university should be less than going to the West Coast. The football program should be more competitive in the ACC. But the basketball conference would be the bomb.

Greg
No location given

Kansas to the ACC makes perfect sense for all of the reasons you listed. It would especially benefit the Jayhawks’ football program, although I think Kansas would be competitive in the Big East, too. The Pac-12 would be more of a struggle. I’m still holding out hope that the Big 12 stays together, though.


By the numbers

Your comment about whether the ninth-place team in the ACC or Big Ten could have won the tournament amuses me. The Big Ten and ACC don't have 16 teams like the Big East. The appropriate comparison should be if a fifth or sixth-place team in the ACC or Big Ten could have done it. I think they could have.

Pat Bancroft
Melissa, Texas

Virginia Tech, Boston College and Clemson finished in a tie for fourth in the ACC last season, and two of those schools (Boston College and Virginia Tech) didn’t even make the NCAA tournament. Michigan State, Illinois, Michigan and Penn State tied for fourth in the Big Ten. And you’re telling me one of those schools was good enough to win the NCAA title? Now THAT’S amusing.

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