Welcome to the day before the biggest game of the Pac-10 season!
I can honestly say I've been looking forward to this pretty much ever since the Cougs fell to UCLA on the last possession of their first meeting, way back on the first weekend of the Pac-10 season. About the only thing that could make it better would be if the Cougars could have figured out away to break the Oregon jinx, stay in the top 10, and make it a game for the Pac-10 regular season title.
Alas, I'll have to settle for an end-of-the-season gem between the two best teams in the conference.
But before we look forward -- be on the lookout tomorrow for a full preview of the matchup -- let's review the weekend that was and see how the Pac-10 and the NCAA Tournament are setting up with less than two weeks to go until Selection Sunday:
FIRST, THE LOCAL TEAMS
The Cougars did a nice job redeeming themselves after losing another heartbreaker to Oregon by completing a second-half comeback against Oregon State, although I don't think it was roundly viewed that way around the country. While the impetus behind WSU's drop in the polls clearly was the loss to Oregon, I think the amount of the drop -- from No. 9 to No. 13 in the AP Poll -- had more to do with the closer-than-expected final score against the Beavers.
But make no mistake: There truly are no easy games in the Pac-10, specifically on the road. Oregon State and Arizona State both are playing well right now, and if either one got an invite to the NIT (which won't happen), they'd win at least a game or two. There's no shame in any team losing on the road in the conference -- especially when it's a top 25 team, recent struggles be darned -- and certainly no shame in figuring out a way to squeeze out a win at a place a team hadn't won since 1998.
The good news is that ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi saw it much the same way, as he has the Cougars remaining on the No. 3 seed line they've been occupying for weeks now. CollegeRPI.com expert Jerry Palm hasn't been quite so enamored with the Cougs this season, favoring a No. 4 seed most of the way. It's where he has them now, although he has not updated his bracket since Friday. (Incidentally, Lunardi is now updating his bracket daily.)
The Huskies, meanwhile, cemented their status as an NIT team -- barring a miracle run in the Pac-10 Tournament -- by getting swept in Oregon. All of those "what if" scenarios finally can be thrown out the window once and for all.
There wasn't even a whole lot redeeming about the Huskies' loss to the Ducks, and it started even before the tip.
Nevermind the 15 turnovers, or the paltry two rebounds and eight points contributed by Jon Brockman. The real story to me was Ryan Appleby's inexplicable inability to forgive Oregon guard Aaron Brooks. You might remember that Brooks elbowed Appleby in the mouth in a Pac-10 Tournament game last season, resulting in Brooks' ejection from that game and a two-game suspension.
While I'll be the first to say I don't particularly care for Brooks -- who I think is at best a hothead, at worst a punk -- the guy did apologize (repeatedly) and tried to reach out to Appleby by shaking his hand before the game. Appleby refused. Brooks tried again after the game. Appleby refused again.
The reason this is so disappointing to me is that Lorenzo Romar runs a class program, and Appleby's actions reeked of classlessness. He says he didn't agree with the Pac-10's punishment of Brooks. So what? That's not his problem. The only thing carrying that bitterness does is make him bitter. It does nothing to Brooks, who (probably not-so-coincidentally) went on to score 30 points against the Huskies. Sure taught that guy a lesson!
Appleby would do well to follow John McGrath's advice. If Rudy Tomjanovich can forgive Kermit Washington, surely Appleby can move on from an elbow.
The Zags, meanwhile, seem to have rallied from the arrest and subsequent suspension of star forward Josh Heytvelt. After initially dropping two of their first three games without him, the Bulldogs seem to be getting hot at the right time, winning their last three games to clinch the WCC regular season title.
Coach Mark Few is getting creative, especially with his offensive sets, to try and compensate for the loss of such a dynamic player, and the improved play will be crucial heading into the conference tournament, which the Bulldogs likely have to win to get into the NCAA Tournament. (Until the Zags took over the No. 1 spot in the league, Lunardi had them as one of his last eight teams out.)
NOW, AROUND THE PAC-10
This portion of the MMF is becoming less and less interesting every week. Why? Because not much is changing. The top six teams in the league have established themselves thusly, and their performance week to week doesn't seem to be having much of a dramatic effect on their Tournament hopes.
Need proof? ESPN.com's Bubble Watch says no less than five teams in the conference -- UCLA, WSU, Oregon, USC and Arizona -- are locks for the NCAA Tournament, and the sixth (Stanford) only has minor work to do.
The more interesting story today is Lute Olsen's revelation that -- gasp! -- he does not have Parkinson's Disease. Sorry to make light of what is a serious condition, but where do stories like this come from? Why would a guy who's been one of the most successful coaches in the game of basketball feel the need to come out and dispute something that's never even been reported?
One word: Recruiting.
In the cut-throat world of getting teenagers to come to your campus, one can reasonably suspect that some of Olsen's enemies, er, coaching colleagues have been spreading rumors about him. "See coach Olsen? You don't want to play for him! Look at the way he shakes ... it's like he's, I dunno, got Parkinson's or something ..."
I've got an idea: Maybe he shakes sometimes because he's OLD! Like 72 years old!
Gimme a break. The guy can still coach, and if a teenager can't figure out that he's old and then make a reasonable decision about whether they want to play for someone who's old -- as many great recruits have done -- then the recruit is a moron I don't want in my program anyway. Whoever has been circulating these rumors on the recruiting trail ought to be ashamed.
But then again, since when has there ever been shame associated with big time college athletics?
Welcome to the day before the biggest game of the Pac-10 season!
I'm still working on the Monday Morning Fallout -- yes, I realize it's Tuesday, but yesterday was President's Day, and I have a nursery to prepare with a baby on the way in a couple of weeks, so cut me some slack -- so here's a little somethig to whet your whistle until I get a chance to break down the weekend of college hoops.
- Racing is spectacular in HD with surround sound. I had tried watching Daytona on an older TV in years past, and it doesn't even compare. The breathtaking views alone kept me interested.
- ESPN's new "NASCAR Now" that aired all week in the spot that is normally occupied by "Pardon the Interruption" was great. I originally was upset that PTI was taking a break, but I came away far more educated about the sport and its nuances, especially with all the suspensions and fines. I don't know how it came off to die-hard fans, but the fact that I now know what a manifold is was great for this newbie.
- That finish! Wow! I don't have a lot of knowledge about NASCAR's rules, but after that kind of a race, I can't see how NASCAR could have finished it any other way. It just would not have been fair, as the crash behind them had absolutely no effect on the leaders and did not present an unsafe situation. (As an aside, Martin's immediate -- and continuous -- lament of "I thought they were going to throw the yella" comes off as a bit of sour grapes.)
With just over two minutes left in the Washington-Washington State game last night at Hec-Ed Pavillion and the Huskies drawing up the potential go-ahead play in their huddle, I looked nervously at a scoreboard that read 62-61, WSU.
Surrounded by a sea of Crimson and Gray-clad fans -- who must have worked as hard as I did Monday to get tickets -- I think my buddy Ryan noticed my trepidation, because he turned to me and said:
"These are the kinds of games we win. And the kind of game the Huskies lose."
Surer words haven't been spoken, as the No. 10 Cougars calmly beat their cross-state rivals for the fourth consecutive time in an atmosphere that was downright electric, showcasing everything I love about college basketball.
I suppose my anxiety -- which seems to run in the genetic code of most Cougs -- came from the knowledge that up until about five minutes left in the game, Husky big men Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes had pretty much had their way inside, racking up 37 points, 18 rebounds, and 15 fouls on four Cougar big men between them.
Then, something completely inexplicable happened: Hawes and Brockman combined for exactly one rebound and one shot (a missed put-back by Brockman) in the final 5:35 as Justin Dentmon jacked up shot after shot. Granted, I think WSU had more to do with it than anyone wants to admit, as Robbie Cowgill and Ivory Clark -- each playing with four fouls -- did a GREAT job keeping the two from getting prime post position on the block down the stretch, but how in the world could the Huskies not get the ball in the hands of their two best players for FIVE MINUTES?
And I guess that's the biggest difference between their team and ours. Where the Cougars are disciplined and pateint, the Huskies can't recognize how to win when it matters most. Maybe it's coaching (as my Husky father irately suggested at the end of the game) or maybe it's just not having smart guards -- after all, can't you picture Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson or Will Conroy being intelligent enought to pass the ball into the post? -- but whatever it was, it was inexcusable.
With that, WSU gets a week off to rest its weary legs, something I'm convinced Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver need badly. And UW is left to contemplate what might have been.
It's not necessarily NIT time yet -- as my Cougar friends and I loudly suggested with the clock running out -- but it's getting tight. The Huskies really have to win at No. 7 Pitt on Saturday, because they need to offset three very bad road losses in the eyes of the Tournament selection committee. Win that, and win three out of four to finish the season and get to .500 in the Pac-10 -- which would have to include at least two wins over tournament-bound teams such as UCLA, USC and Oregon -- and you've got a fighting chance.
Other stuff I noticed last night:
- The true turning point in the game came when Tony Bennett switched up his defense and put 6-foot-10, 270-pound Aron Baynes on Jon Brockman. Daven Harmeling picked up two fast fouls trying to stop the McDonalds All-American, and Baynes was able to muscle Brockman, who's used to pretty much shoving everyone around. It's what allowed the Cougs to stretch their lead to eight, and while Brockman still was effective from time-to-time, the move definitely slowed him down.
- Speaking of Brockman, it's fitting that he wears the number 40, because he plays like a 40-year-old man. And I mean that as a quasi-compliment. There is no better player in the Pac-10 at getting away with more pushing, pulling, grabbing, holding, scratching and hooking than Brockman. He averages double-digit rebounds even while generally playing below the rim, and about the only thing he doesn't do to gain an advantage is pull on other players' armpit hair. My dad, a former basketball referee, says a player earns a certain amount of latitude when he consistently plays with that kind of 100-mph intensity. While it's precisely the kind of thing that endears him to Husky fans, as a fan of an opposing team, it sure is irritating to watch him bully his way around the basketball court. One has to wonder if he'd get that kind of latitude if the game had been in Pullman. I guess we'll find out on Saturday.
- Speaking of the refs (notice the progression here?), this seemed to be par for the course for Pac-10 officiating: Inconsistent and borderline inept. Hawes and Brockman got away with anything they wanted inside, often pushing and shoving their way around the bucket. On the other end, there were a couple of questionable fouls called as the Cougars took jumpshots. They refs truly seemed to get caught up in the energy of the game and it made them timid, as they vascillated between ticky-tack and swallowing their whistles.
- Lastly, this is how far Washington has fallen: I've never, ever seen a crowd get so excited over two consecutive baskets. On about three separate occasions, the Huskies made two shots in a row, and the place went bonkers.
PS: That photo came from Rod Mar of the Seattle Times -- one of the best sports photographers around. You can find the original of the photo here.
I generally don't write college basketball game previews -- in fact, this is the first one I've done this year -- but tonight certainly calls for something special. The Cougars are going for the Pac-10 regular season title, while the Huskies are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. I'll be in attendance; here's how I think the matchup breaks down:
No. 10 Washington State (21-4, 10-3 Pac-10) at Washington (16-8, 6-7)
Line: Cougars by 3.
TV: Comcast cable Ch. 17 in the Puget Sound area, Click!’s FCS Central channel (expanded digital package), DirecTV Ch. 650, Dish Network Ch. 448 and on FSN in Eastern Washington.
Radio: 950-AM (UW broadcast), 850-AM (WSU broadcast)
Media releases (all in PDF): WSU gameday release, UW gameday release, Pac-10 weekend release
How the Cougars got here: Without a doubt, the Cougars have been the big surprise of the Pac-10 basketball season -- maybe even the big surprise nationally. After being picked to finish last in the conference before the season by the writers who cover it, WSU now sits alone in second place with just five games to go. The Cougars went through a weak nonconference schedule 11-1, but left doubters wondering how they would stack up in a deep and tough Pac-10. We all now know the answer, as this team has continued to gain momentum as the season has gone along.
The Cougars have done it with a blend of their trademark stifling defense and a surprisingly proficient offense. They continue to prove that they can win on the strength of their offense -- something that never happened over the past two years -- while also using their defense to win on nights when the shots aren't falling. They have held their past three opponents under 50 points, the first time that's happened in over 50 years.
How the Huskies got here: The Huskies have been almost as surprising as the Cougars, but for entirely different reasons. Originally a Top 25 team and loaded with young talent, Washington was exposed after a weak nonconference schedule that featured only one road game -- a 20-point beatdown at Gonzaga. The Huskies are 15-1 at home this year, but just 1-7 on the road, a record that includes two Pac-10 losses by 28 points or more.
However, this is a team that has now won 5-0f-6, and might just be gelling -- and not a moment too soon. Forward Jon Brockman has led the way, averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds in a pair of home wins against the Bay Area schools last week, and super-frosh Spencer Hawes appears to be regaining his early season form after struggling with injuries and illness for the better part of the last two months. The perimeter play for the Huskies continues to remain shaky, but they seem to have found a formula for success on offense that involves keeping it out of the guards hands as much as possible and getting it into the hands of Brockman and Hawes.
- Bockman and Hawes on offense vs. Ivory Clark, Robbie Cowgill and Aron Baynes on defense: The Washington resurgence has been led almost entirely by the improved play of its big men, and how well the Cougars' interior players do at defending them will almost certainly be the on-floor key to the game. Hawes didn't play in the first matchup, and Brockman almost single-handedly got the Cardinal big men in foul trouble on Sunday with his tenacity on the glass. Will Clark, Cowgill and Baynes be able to hold their own without falling deep into foul trouble? Cowgill, the Cougars' best shot blocker, has a special propensity for getting saddled with fouls. I believe whichever team controls the glass controls this game.
- Lorenzo Romar vs. Tony Bennett: I think this is a game that is going to come down to coaching more than most games do. Bennett has really made a name for himself this year as an astute game tactician. This WSU team is surprisingly versatile -- equally comfortable going big or small -- and Bennett isn't afraid to push buttons, since he usually finds something that works. Will he be able to do that once again, given that Washington presents personnel mismatches the Cougars haven't seen this year? On the other hand, Washington isn't a versatile team. How well can Romar get his kids to control the tempo and take advantage of potential mismatches? Romar is a great coach, but this is a group that hasn't always shown the ability to implement changes on the fly. Will he be able to get them to listen if things go sideways?
Prediction: I know Washington played much better against Cal and Stanford, but I wonder how much better. Remember, this is a team that got blown out by Arizona just a week and a half ago, and Cal (4-8 in the Pac-10) and Stanford (losers of 3-of-4 since beating UCLA) hardly are in the same class as Washington State. The biggest issues UW had against WSU in the first matchup were its inability to get a quality shot on offense, porous defense and lack of care with the basketball. Only one of those things -- shot selection -- figures to improve with Hawes back in the middle.
What I saw against Stanford was a Washington team that outworked and outhustled its opponent; that has yet to happen to the Cougars yet this year, and I don't figure it will start tonight. I also saw a team that was still sloppy with the basketball. If that continues again tonight, WSU will absolutely take advantage. Likewise, I have no reason to believe that Washington will all of a sudden start playing disciplined basketball tonight.
Let's also not forget this: This isn't first time WSU has played a team with revenge on its mind on its home floor. This is a team that went to Arizona and took care of business in the face of a raucous home crowd. This also is a team that won in Seattle last year, and has beaten the Huskies three years in a row. The Cougars have been through the losing, they've seen all the hostile environments, they've taken other team's best shots and still continue to win. That's why I believe, despite the presence of Hawes, that the Cougars will have enough to overcome Washington's emotion and win this game. It'll be close, but WSU's maturity wins out in the end. Washington State 77, Washington 75.
Stuff I ran across while surfing the Internet this morning ...
-- MUCH TO THE SURPRISE of this blogger, who was sure he had won the award earlier this year, Jon Brockman picked up his first Pac-10 player of the week award yesterday after his inspired performances against Cal and Stanford. Even more surprising? Brockman and WSU forward Daven Harmeling are friends. They call each other after games.
Is that even allowed?
Proposed man law: No current Cougar shall be friends with a current Husky unless one of the following criteria apply: a) Said players were friends before beginning their respective college careers; or b) Said Cougar actually has more player of the week awards than said Husky and thus may rub it in the Husky player's face, especially when said Husky is a former McDonald's All-American.
Harmeling has two player of the week awards this year, therefore I fully support this proposal. Man law?
-- APPARENTLY, TONY BENNETT is a hot commodity in more ways that one. Most of us Cougar fans worry about Bennett skipping town in a year or two for a fat contract from a university that can outspend WSU. And while the vast majority of us are concerned about the high level of basketball continuing beyond this year, there are some Coug fans who worry about his departure for a different reason.
They think he's cute.
Jim Moore of the Seattle P-I -- the Go 2 Guy -- has a humorous piece this morning on Bennett's good looks through the eyes of his wife, Laurel, who takes it all in good fun. It's a great read, whether you're a Coug fan or not.
-- IF YOU'RE A COLLEGE HOOPS JUNKIE, there is no more vital read each week than ESPN.com's Weekly Watch, which takes readers around the country for the week that was in college basketball. It looks at majors, mid-majors and small majors alike. It's great for getting geared up for the NCAA Tournament, when you're wondering who the next Gonzaga or George Mason. (It's Davidson, by the way.)
As the Cougs and Huskies prepare to sqaure off this Wednesday for the biggest college basketball game this state has seen in a long time, I've only got this to say:
I GOT TICKETS THIS MORNING! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
Actually, I have a few more things I want to say about it, but I just had to get that off my chest first. My dad -- who is an ardent UW fan -- and I will be in attendance for the evening's festivities. He always takes me to the Apple Cup in Seattle with his season tickets, so I figure it's time to repay the favor.
And for naysayers out there who point out that Wednesday is Valentine's Day and that I must be a bad husband, going to the game is my wife's Valentine's present to me. Remember, this is the same woman who went with me to the WSU/Texas Holiday Bowl in 2003 on our honeymoon ...
Did I mention my wife is awesome?
These two teams really are on a collision course. I'm not going to dive too deeply into the game here, because I'm going to be writing a comprehensive preview on Wednesday in advance of the contest. But it's shaping up to be an absolute war, given the tenacity with which Washington played its past two games.
Here's my take of the weekend that was ...
FIRST, THE LOCAL TEAMS
In the interest of fairness, I figure I'll start with Washington for once, since the Huskies really did have a great weekend. I didn't get a chance to catch the game against Cal, but I was able to watch the Stanford win in the midst of grading sophomore English essays, and I came away wondering two things:
- Did they pound the ball inside like that against Cal, too?
- And if they did, why the heck did it take so long?
My dad assured me that they employed the same strategy against Cal, something that I've said all along gives Washington the best chance to compete in the Pac-10. In fact, here's what I wrote after the Cougs obliterated the Huskies last time:
When Romar calls me for advice, this is what I'll tell him: Take a page out of the Cougars' book. Slow the game down. Minimize possessions. Pound the ball inside over and over again. I know a leopard doesn't change its spots, and Washington is a running team. But sometimes as a coach you have to put your team in the best position to win. They can't win this way.
Between Jon Brockman and Specner Hawes -- and given the Huskies' extremely shaky perimerter play -- there's no reason this team shouldn't have already been slowing down the tempo, limiting possessions and beating people up in the paint. And that's precisely waht they did against Stanford. Hawes got all the pub, but I'm telling you, Brockman (14 points, 10 rebounds) was the monster in that game. He absolutely set the tone, and, for once, his teammates followed.
So, what do these wins mean, tournament-wise? Well, not a lot if they go out and lose to WSU and No. 5 Pitt. Home wins over Oregon (without Aaron Brooks), Stanford and Cal are nice, but they need to pick up another quality home win and show the committtee that they can win a road game against a tough opponent -- or, at the very least, not lose by 30. That's why I expect Washington to truly come out swinging on Wednesday -- the Huskies know they're running out of time.
Meanwhile, the Cougs just keep plugging along. Two home games, two relatively easy wins over Cal and Stanford -- and a new No. 10 AP ranking to show for it, the best in school history. WSU now has held its opponent under 50 points for three consecutive games, numbers that harken back to an era of a different Bennett. The offense even showed signs of life for the first time since the Arizona win, putting together a surgically efficient second half against Cal, which tried to beat the Cougars at their own game by milking the shot clock.
Bracketology experts around the country continue to give the Cougs love -- Jerry Palm had them as a No. 3 seed before Saturday's win, and Joe Lunardi had them as a No. 3 on Sunday night. It would be great if the Cougs can continue to stay there; given their tournament inexperience, I'd like to see a first-round cupcake. (By the way, just for funsies: Lunardi has the Cougs and Zags squaring off in the second round in Sacramento if the Bulldogs can get past Virginia Tech.)
Speaking of that other Division I team to the north of Pullman, the season continues to go awry for Gonzaga. In case you missed it, two Zags -- including second-leading scorer Josh Heytvelt -- were arrested on drug charges over the weekend and have been suspended indefinitely. It didn't seem to bother the Bulldogs against St. Mary's, but the true test will come when Memphis comes to town. Heytvelt is much more valuable against quality opponents, given the versatility of his game. We'll see if the situation gains some clarity before that matchup on Saturday.
Lunardi still has the Zags in, but only ever so slightly as a No. 11 seed. They're coming dangerously close to being on the wrong side of the bubble if they don't win the WCC Tournament.
AROUND THE PAC-10
I can't say I was terribly surprised by UCLA's road loss to West Virginia on Saturday; West Virginia is a pretty solid basketball team that has been on the fringe of the Top 25 for a while. What has surprised me in the wake of that loss, however, is how little the media seems to be mentioning that UCLA played without point guard Darren Collison. For as great as Arron Afflalo is, Collison is the one that really makes that team go. Coug fans will remember their early-season matchup with the Bruins was lost when Collison started hitting some shots and generating pressure on defense. He really is the guy that makes that team go on both ends of the floor. ...
Huge win for Arizona over Oregon. The Wildcats just about blew it, but held on for a win that suggests they are beginning to get hot at the right time. Trust me, this is a team no one will want to face come conference tournament time. Remember Chase Budinger, the freshman who seemed to have hit a wall? He had 30 points and 10 rebounds against the Ducks. ...
Conversely, Oregon definitely is heading in the wrong direction. Remember my assertion that if you control Aaron Brooks, you beat the Ducks? That's precisely what Arizona did, like UCLA and USC before it. Brooks might be watching the Pac-10 Player of the Year award slip through his fingers ...
Tough weekend for Stanford, too. This team is a bit maddening, as it now has a number of good wins and bad losses on its resume. Lundardi still has them as a No. 9 seed despite the sweep, but that's pretty low. You don't want to be facing a No. 1 seed in a potential second-round matchup.
If you're a Coug fan like me who constantly finds himself frustrated by the dearth of Coug-related sports coverage over here on the west side, you need to check out Glenn Kasses' "All Cougs, All The Time" blog through the Spokane Spokesman-Review. As the title suggests, it's full of all kinds of cool stuff about Cougar football and basketball that you just won't get over here in Huskyland.
(Kudos, by the way, to The News Tribune, who recently joined The Seattle Times in sending a live reporter to WSU games, both home and away.)
Glenn wrote an awesome story about Dick Bennett for the Saturday edition of his paper, which you can get to by going to this blog entry and clicking through to the story. (I can't link directly to the story, because the S-R makes you pay to access its online version unless you're a print subsriber or you click to stories directly linked through their blogs. Stupid, I know.)
That blog entry includes a lot of Glenn's interview with Bennett that didn't make it into the story. In one spot, he talks about how Dick bristled at a question regarding his offense as it compared to Tony's offense. It reminded me of my first interview with Dick, as he was heading into his first year at WSU.
I've had the opportunity to interview Dick a couple of times for freelance stories I've worked on over that past few years, and I can truly say that in my career as a sports writer, he's EASILY in my top five favorite guys to interview.
I'm kind of a hoops junkie, and I know comparing anyone to John Wooden is borderline sacrilege. But talking basketball with Dick Bennett has to be at least somewhat like talking to Wooden -- the guy just knows so much about the game, and loves to talk about it.
During my first interview with him, the first question out of my mouth had to do with offense. (I was a college basketball writer when he was on his Final Four run at Wisconsin, so it seemed a natural place to start.) "Bristled" is not the word I would have used to describe his response; I was worried he was going to hang up on me. The interview settled in nicely after that, as we moved on to other topics, but his initial response was telling. The guy clearly hates that "slow-down" label.
I interviewed him again a couple of years later for a story on Derrick Low, and he remembered our conversation from before. That always stuck with me. We talked for about 45 minutes on the phone about everything from Derrick to the Pac-10 to teaching (as I had become a teacher by then) to favorite places to eat in Pullman. I used about five minutes worth of the material in my story. The rest was just for fun, and I think he had a good time, too. He loves talking about basketball with anyone who will listen.
He may come across as a bit curmudgeonly, but he really is a great guy whose knowledge and love for the game runs deeper than most of us realize.
Ever sit there on Selection Sunday -- which incidentally, is just one month from today -- and say to yourself: "I can't believe that team made it in the field! That other team is so much more deserving of that spot. It's a no-brainer! What in the heck was the committee thinking?!?"
I have. And so has ESPN.com writer Pat Forde. That's precisely why the NCAA asked Forde and 19 other members of the United States Basketball Writers Association to come to Indianapolis and participate in a simulated Selection Sunday, presumably to get these writers off their backs a month from now.
It seems to have worked. Wrote Forde:
We the media had a deadline to produce our own mock NCAA Tournament bracket for a mock selection show, and we blew it. By about 95 minutes. We nearly turned Selection Sunday into Selection Monday.
And we're pretty good at making deadlines. It's what we do for a living.
But this was different.
This was, as the NCAA surely predicted we know-it-alls would learn, harder than it looks.
Forde, ESPN.com colleague Andy Katz and CBS SportsLine's Dennis Dodd emerged from the process with a genuine appreciation for what the committee goes through in making its decisions. And they each wrote about the process -- fascinating stuff if you're a fan of college basketball. Forde's story is more of an overall look at what it's like trying to make the decisions; Katz's story is pretty much a blow-by-blow look at the event. You can find them here -- if you've only got time to read one, read Forde's:
- "What I Learned From Bracket Camp," by Pat Forde, ESPN.com
- "Here's How It All Went Down," by Andy Katz, ESPN.com
- "Bracketed: Media walk awhile in selection committee's shoes," by Dennis Dodd, CBS.Sportsline.com
While it seems a bit disturbing to most people, I think it's actually not all that bad for the college basketball game. I think it's one of the reasons you've seen mid-majors become so darn good over the past few years: They pick up on the late bloomers who fly under the radar, the guys who actually make it to their senior years without having committed. I think programs who regularly practice what Withers is talking about set themselves up for problems.
- "How Early Is Too Early?" by Bud Withers, The Seattle Times
I've written periodically in the last few weeks about House Bill 1307, a piece of legislation that would prohibit administrators in Washington state from censoring student media except in cases of unprotected, illegal speech.
And while it's something that I'm extremely passionate about, it's also something that doesn't really fit on this blog. So, from here on in, I'll be referring you over to Washington Journalism Education Association blog -- which I've started to maintain -- for further information on the bill.
You can find the blog at http://wjea.blogspot.com, and you can find all the posts specifically on the bill at this link.
Since I hadn't really updated anything on the bill in about a week, I wrote a new post last night to catch everyone up. You can find that specific post here.
I love college football signing day -- it's just so darn exciting.
Although, I must admit, I'm never really sure what I'm so excited about.
Truly, there is no greater guessing game in sports than evaluating football recruiting classes. At least with college basketball recruiting, we get to see these guys play with and against each other in AAU tournaments or at all-star summer camps.
Football? Who knows what you're getting. Yes, there are more scouting combines now than there used to be, but it's still pretty much a crap shoot because so many things play into whether a football player is successful (system, position, physically maturing, etc.). Never mind the fact that the "star" ratings used by recruiting services often have more to do with who's recruiting the player -- bigger schools chasing the player equals more stars -- than actual talent, because how easy is it to judge a guy who plays week in and week out against inferior competition?
For example, there was a skinny 6-foot-6, 210-pound "two-star" quarterback who projected to be a tight end and signed with Washington State back in 2002. That guy's name? Mkristo Bruce -- the All-Pac-10 defensive end who was nearly unblockable last year until suffering a knee injury and being moved inside in a 3-4 defense.
So, while as a Coug fan I'm excited about the prospect of a guy like Terry Mixon contributing to the secondary right away, I'm also tempered by the knowledge that there are plenty of "four-star" recruits like J.T. Diederichs and Randy Estes who never pan out. (Although, to be fair, the other three WSU recruits rated "four-star" by Rivals.com the last two years turned out to be pretty good: Jerome Harrison, Michael Bumpus and Andy Roof.)
For the record, Rivals.com has ranked the Washington Huskies recruiting class as the 35th overall in the nation, fourth in the Pac-10; the Cougs are rated as the No. 62 recruiting class (right in between Baylor and San Diego State), dead last in the Pac-10.
With that, I'll leave the speculation to people who know a lot more about this than I do.
- "WSU's secondary gets primary focus," by Bud Withers, Seattle Times
- "UW welcomes class called good and deep," by Bob Condotta, Seattle Times
- "UW, WSU opt for depth, not glitz," by Don Ruiz, The News Tribune
- "WSU focuses on secondary, not rankings," by John Naito, Seattle P-I
- "Washington goes 27-for-27 on signing day," by Molly Yanity, Seattle PI
- "Lobbestael quietly becomes a Cougar," by Darren Fessenden, Seattle P-I
- "Pattern of UW wins may emerge from ink blot," by Ted Miller, Seattle P-I
- "Go 2 Guy: Cougars show recruiting cards, but really could have used a kicker," by Jim Moore, Seattle P-I
- "WSU signing day notes, quotes and facts," by JV Holland, Cougfan.com
Just a brief update on Joe Lunardi's Bracketology over at ESPN.com. Coming off the road sweep of the Oregon schools, Lunardi has moved Washington State up to a No. 4 seed in his latest NCAA Tournament projection.
Why is that significant? Two reasons:
- Reaching that No. 4 line usually guarantees a pretty inferior opponent. Of course, there still are upsets, but there's a pretty significant difference in terms of the number of upsets that happen to No. 4 seeds vs. No. 5 or 6 seeds. (I'll see if I can dig up the stats at some point. For now, you'll just have to trust me.)
- Seeds that are No. 4 and above are what are considered "protected seeds" and are usually sent to a site that's geographically favorable to the school. In this case, Lunardi has the Cougs off to Sacramento, Calif. (Yes, I'm aware there's a regional in Spokane; for an explanation of why the Cougs can't play there, read this.)
I'd like to give a special shout-out to the Zags, who went out and made me look really dumb the day after I said it appeared they finally had gotten their act together by losing at Loyola-Marymount, 67-61. Nonetheless, Lunardi still has the Bulldogs in the tournament as an at-large team, albeit as one of his "last four" in. I'm really not sure how these guys are still an at-large bid at 17-8 with two awful, awful losses on their resume (at CollegeRPI.com No. 149 St. Mary's and the No. 182 Lions). Whether they belong in or not, the Zags are walking a dangerous line if they don't win their conference tournament.
Speaking of teams with bad losses ... how 'bout them Huskies? A colleague of mine mentioned that he heard UW forward Jon Brockman on the radio today saying the Huskies were in great position to make a run and get in the tournament. Uh, earth to Jon -- you might still have a chance to sneak in, but I'd hardly call it great positioning.
Don't believe me? Think I'm a Husky hater? Check out this story from Bob Condotta, the UW writer at the Seattle Times. It includes interviews with the two prominent bracket projectors whose sites I cite often here (Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm). Some snippets:
"They are not even on my board or anything," said Jerry Palm, who runs CollegeRPI.com. "When I do brackets, I'm not even thinking about them."So, what do they need to do? All agreed that getting to 20 victories with some big wins in the mix would be necessary.
"Washington has done just enough in the last two weeks [beating Oregon, winning at Arizona State] to stay on the edge of the at-large conversation," Lunardi said. "But it is the far edge."
"They have to win at Pitt, and probably win at Oregon, too," said Ken Pomeroy,None are optimistic.
who manages kenpom.com. "And then maybe one more in the Pac-10 tournament."
"There is nothing in their track record to date which suggests this will happen," said Lunardi. "The Huskies have some of the worst defensive metrics [ratings based on stats] in the country. I can't think of a team in their position which has turned it around as suddenly as Washington needs to."
From the too stupid to be true file, check out why the Cougars won't be on TV tomorrow night against fellow Top 25 team Stanford. (No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 19 USC won't be on tonight either.)
A bit of the story:
Compared to Pac-10 football, where you can play your way onto TV frequently, there's less flexibility in basketball. Fox Sports Net has the rights, makes its picks before the season and secondary carrier FSN gets second dibs.The Pac-10 does a lot of things right, but scheduling TV games in its showcase sports and getting good tie-ins for bowl games are not two of them.
For the Cougars, it's not seconds. FSN has its Sonics contract, and also a tighter deal with the University of Washington. That means lesser access for WSU, and having to stay away from the "windows" of those telecasts.
For instance, FSN, which will show the Washington-Cal game Thursday night, offered WSU the option of being televised live at 9:30 p.m. The Cougars declined, and they should. Schussing up Highway 195 to Spokane at 12:30 a.m. on a winter night is not a good thing.
What's that you say? Those are the two most imporatnt things for any conference?
Uhhhh ... never mind.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen is the worst commissioner in collegiate sports. He's a backwards thinking old man who has no clue how to promote what should be one of the premier conferences in the country. ESPN passed him by years ago, and now he's stuck trying to make up lost ground, something he clearly has no interest in doing.
(Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Check out this site.)
Welcome to the post-Super Bowl edition of the Monday Morning Fallout. Before we move on to our regularly scheduled college hoops programming, just a couple of quick thoughts about the biggest game in American Sports.
First, I'm glad the Colts won. There hardly is a more classy guy in football than Tony Dungy, and while I grew up a Bears fan -- like a lot of kids in 1985 -- I can't help but be unbelievably happy for the guy. (If you're unfamiliar with the story, familiarize yourself here.)
Is there a more underrated coach in the NFL? His teams have made the playoffs eight consecutive years, and he has the highest winning percentage of any active coach. Yes, he's black (and I'm not naive enough to think that doesn't have anything to do with it), but I think we Americans like our coaches to be screamers -- almost like we're worried they aren't doing enough if they're not spewing four-letter words every minute of every game. Like that somehow equates to passion or something. Good on Tony Dungy for doing it his way.
Second, how could I possibly have rooted for the Bears? They knocked out the Seahawks, and they have a pair of former Huskies (Olin Kreutz, Tank Johnson) starting for them. Meanwhile, the Colts have a starting corner named Jason David -- a Coug. Do I need any more reason to be happy for a Colts win?
Now, on to the hoops ...
FIRST, THE LOCAL TEAMS
Great weekend for the Cougs, disastrous weekend for the Huskies.
In this space about a week ago, I said that I thought WSU's trip to Arizona smelled like a trap game, that I'd feel a lot better about the Cougs if they could take a marginal lead down the stretch against a good team and put the game comfortably away.
Ask and ye shall receive.
That 72-66 victory over the Wildcats was their best game of the year, the kind of game that has me convinced the Cougs could actually be poised not only for an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but for a run, too. It felt like a trap game from the beginning, with Arizona coming off its worst home loss in the Lute Olsen era and attempting to avoid its first ever season sweep at the hand of WSU. The Cougs took control midway through the first half and maintained it until a brief run by Arizona that tied the game late. However, WSU kept its composure, made a few buckets while tightening the screws on defense, and cruised to a six-point win. Stellar.
As for that one-point victory at Arizona State on Saturday? All I have to say is this: They won the game. I know ASU is absolutely terrible, but how many teams in this country could go 12 minutes without scoring a point and still figure out a way to win, no matter the opponent? While much has been made of WSU's improved offense this season, defense always will be the straw that stirs the Cougs' drink, and that was never more evident than in that game.
So, what does a pair of road wins in the Pac-10 get you? Well, some healthy respect in the polls, for one thing. The Cougs moved up to No. 14 in the AP poll and No. 14 in the coaches' poll. Additionally, CBS SportsLine's Gary Parrish remains in love with them, moving the Cougs into his personal top 10 -- pretty heady company. They also are continuing to solidify their status as a No. 4-6 seed for the Tournament. Jerry Palm had them slotted as a No. 5 seed after the win against Arizona, while ESPN Bracketologst Joe Lunardi had them at a No. 6 on Wednesday, before the road sweep. He'll likely bump them up to a No. 5, as well.
Now, on to those Huskies. The weekend could only have been worse had they lost to Arizona State. Entering a critical six-game stretch that began with the ASU game, I said that the Huskies needed to go at least 4-2 to have a shot at getting the selection committee's attention. Now they've already got one of those losses after Saturday's 84-54 drubbing at the hands of the same Arizona team the Cougs handled with relative ease. In fact, I said they also had to avoid the bad loss, the kind the committee frowns upon. Suffering your second 30-point road loss of the season is as bad as it gets.
Washington now faces a four-game stretch of Cal, No. 25 Stanford, No. 14 WSU and No. 7 Pitt, the last of which is a trip to the East Coast. Where do the three wins come from in that group? We know the Huskies play a lot better at home than they do on the road, but the one they must have is that trip to Pitt. The committee loves signature wins, and pulling the upset against the Panthers might just show that the Huskies belong in the field -- provided they can get to at least 9-9 in the conference (that would mean going 5-2 the rest of the way), plus a win or two in the conference tournament. A tall order indeed.
Great week for the Zags. Since their stunning loss to St. Mary's, they've beat every WCC opponent by at least nine points, and picked up a huge road win at then-No. 23 Stanford this past week. Gonzaga seems to be getting rolling at just the right time, and don't look now, but that was Kansas transfer Micah Downs hitting three big 3s down the stretch against San Diego. Who knows how much he'll be able to give them, with his eligibility and injury issues, but it never hurts to have another weapon.
One of the more interesting things to watch (at least for me) has been how Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi have viewed the Zags this year. While the two of them usually are pretty close to each other with their approximations, Lunardi has consistently viewed the Bulldogs' resume more favorably than Palm. Palm has them in as a No. 11 seed now, and had them out of the field altogether after the loss to St. Mary's. Lunardi, meanwhile, has had the Bulldogs in all along, and had them at a No. 11 seed before the win over Stanford. Not that big of a deal, but something interesting to keep an eye on if Gonzaga doesn't secure the WCC's automatic bid.
Just to the west of Spokane, Eastern Washington continues to find the going tough. Fortunately for the Eagles, so does pretty much everyone else. They lost both games in Montana over the weekend, leaving them four games out of first. However, Weber State is the only school that has even been able to even sort of separate itself from the pack, as six teams are between two and four back. What it suggests is that anything could happen in the conference tourney, although it's becoming increasingly clear that Rodney Stuckey can't carry the Eagles all by himself.
AROUND THE REST OF THE PAC-10
Obviously, the biggest conference storyline of the weekend was Oregon's sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles schools, completing a brutal four-game road trip where only a banked 3-pointer and questionable foul call in the final second of regulation against WSU kept them from being swept the previous weekend by the Washington schools.
The one common denominator in all three losses? Containing Aaron Brooks. He scored 31 in the victory against WSU, but Washington beat Oregon as Brooks served a suspension, and both UCLA and USC limited him below his normal output. Between the two games, he shot just 10-for-27 (37 percent) and averaged just 15 points. This from a guy who averages 18.7 points and shoots 46.8 percent overall. The rest of the conference just got a blueprint on how to beat the Ducks ... if they can duplicate it.
Stanford wasn't helped much by its loss to Gonzaga, although the Bulldogs now have crept back in the RPI top 50, but the Cardinal virtually cemented its status as a Tournament team from the conference when it whipped Cal. Palm's got them in comfortably as a No. 7 seed.
The Cardinal's success suddenly has made Arizona the Pac-10 team that is a bit on the bubble. The blowout of the Huskies will help the Wildcats, but they need to hope their young players get a second wind and build on it down the stretch. They've played a lot of minutes -- 30 minutes or more for every starter -- and are tired. Can they pick it up soon enough? The great minutes they're starting to get from freshman Jordan Hill are helping. They'll need him to keep it up, as he provides an athletic presence inside few teams can match.
By the way, does anyone else notice UCLA just continuing to plug along? The Bruins are 9-2 in the best conference in the country and looked positively dominant against the Ducks. And we won't even talk about their 47-point laugher over Oregon State. As much as we talk about positioning in the conference in spots 2-6, we can't overlook just how very, very good UCLA is.
For the record, it's added up to this projection from Palm for the Pac-10: UCLA (No. 1 seed, no change), Oregon (No. 3, down from No. 2), Washington State (No. 5, up from No. 6), USC (No. 8, down from No. 7), Stanford (No. 7, up from No. 9) and Arizona (No. 10, down from No. 7).
I'll drop in an update from Lunardi when he posts his new projections on Wedesday. We're starting to get to the point in the season where he'll probably start doing projections more frequently than once a week.
I've been asked by a reader of the blog to weigh in with my thoughts on the situation surrounding Alabama football coach Nick Saban. At question is when it's OK or acceptable for a reporter to take off-the-record information and make it public.
Essentially, Saban -- after clearly stating that what he was about to say was strictly off the record -- made some derogatory remarks about a group of people in Louisiana to some reporters, one of whom recorded the conversation. The recording subsequently was leaked by the reporter (who has since apologized).
Here's my take:
When a source asks for something to be off the record, you pretty much have to honor it, unless there is some VERY VERY compelling journalistic need to go public with it -- public safety, corruption, etc.
As a journalist, all you have is your credibility; it's why those SF Chronicle reporters are fighting their subpoena in the BALCO case and are willing to go to jail rather than give up a source to whom they promised anonymity. Once you lose your credibility, you're finished as a journalist.
Is it that compelling that Nick Saban made a racist comment? I don't know the answer. In some instances, it might be. If he was still the coach at LSU, it's probably more noteworthy. Was it worth it to that reporter that no one is ever going to talk to him off the record again? In this case, I doubt it.
That said, Saban is an idiot for not making sure all the recorders were turned off. I know coaches who ALWAYS make sure the recorders are off and notebooks put away before they say anything off the record. If you want something off the record, you should make sure there's no actual record ...
About a week ago, I asked for your support of House Bill 1307, and I want to give you a brief update on the bill's progress.
We got a great piece of news Wednesday when the House Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 to send the bill to the next step in the process, which is the Rules Committee. This 24-member committee controls whether the bill eventually goes on to a vote on the House floor.
We still have a lot of work to do.
First off, the committee vote went right along party lines, with the seven Democrats voting for it, and the four Republicans voting against it. I'm mystified as to how free speech is a partisan issue -- both conservatives and liberals benefit from it -- but this is where we find ourselves. One of the keys to getting this bill passed will be generating some bipartisan support. (Here's at least one conservative who sees the value of free speech.)
Second, the half-hearted arguments of the organizations opposing the bill at the hearing will not be a portent of things to come. Each of these organizations have paid lobbyists working on their behalf who will be trying their darndest to kill this bill behind closed doors. We, on the other hand, have a grassroots campaign.
It will be doubly important that those of you who support this bill make your voice heard with your legislators -- especially if they are Republicans. Ask them to have the courage to support this bill, and let them know where you -- and your vote -- stand.
Lastly, this bill is generating a lot of passionate opinions on both sides. We anticipated opposition from those being stripped of their misguided power, but I can honestly say that I did not anticipate the lukewarm-to-outright-cold response we've received from the professional media, seen here:
As you can see, we have a work cut out for us. Please, actively support this bill!
As a journalism educator at
, I am shocked and dismayed by your total lack of effort to understand the complexities of the relationship between student journalists and the administrators they cover in your editorial, “Young journalists, meet your editors.” Emerald Ridge High School
And as a professional journalist who once worked for one of your competitors, I’m extremely disappointed by your apparent plan to undercut the development of our next generation of journalists.
The relationship of student journalist to administration is not one of writer to editor, as you suggest. That analogy works in a commercial environment, where each party’s goal is to work in the best interest of the publication and the readers it serves.
A better parallel in a school environment is one of journalist to government.
As state employees, administrators are the government in schools. They are the primary decision makers of that community, and they often are the subject of the stories these journalists write – not the case with professional editors. If the Seattle Times was doing an investigative story on potential misconduct by an editor, would that editor be allowed to review the content before it went to press? Absolutely not – it would ruin your credibility.
Student newspapers serve a watchdog role within their schools, and administrators who insist on taking an intimate role in the publication process not only cause major credibility issues for these journalists, but they create an inevitable chilling effect on the free flow of information.
Instead, administrators should concentrate on what has been proven to be the best educational course of action: Hiring or training up highly qualified advisers who teach student journalists how to make responsible journalistic decisions, then allowing students to put it into practice. It’s how my principal operates our school, and how my students have won numerous national journalism awards, including the NSPA Pacemaker award.
I fear for the future of a democracy where our own journalists are advocating for government to determine the content of our press.