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SUMMER HOOPS AND HORSESHOES
June 9, 2006

SCS.com In the sports world, the approach of mid-June means the Belmont Stakes, NBA Finals and Draft, golf and tennis majors, MLB in full swing, and the NFL pre-preseason. College basketball ranks pretty far down the list for most folks.

But, you and I are not most folks. If you are reading this, you actually are thinking about the upcoming college basketball season (just 18 weeks until midnight madness). So, this piece is a hodge-podge of basketball news and insights as we begin a long, hot summer.

So long, Eddie Sutton

The Oklahoma State coach announced his retirement a couple weeks back. Coach Sutton was the first coach to take four different schools to the NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys had a down year in a down conference last season, but they are keeping it in the family, as the head coaching mantle falls to Eddie's son Sean next season. We shall see if the younger Sutton can get them back on track. Eddie has vowed to work in an alcoholism prevention program in Stillwater to help people avoid some of the pitfalls that he has found along the way. With a successful but somewhat checkered coaching past behind him, let us wish Coach Sutton success and happiness in retirement.

Timeouts Grounded

A player will no longer be able to call a timeout while flying out of bounds or hurdling into the backcourt. Does this mean a player has to have one foot on the ground or is it a judgment call by the officials based on "ball control"? The wording seems unclear to me. Stay tuned for more updates.

Bracket Fixes

Need a bracket fix do we? The NBA Finals do not count because they are a seven-game series. No, you have to get away from the hardwood to get your bracket jones fulfilled. Scratch that bracket itch with one of these cool summer treats.

--The French Open Final. Tennis is a far cry from hoops, but world #1 Roger Federer awaits #2-ranked and proclaimed King of Clay Rafael Nadal provided that Nadal dispatches Ivan Ljubicic today (Friday, June 09). The two top players facing off in a single-elimination test for all of the marble is hard for any bracket lover to resist.

--World Cup Soccer. Indulge in a month-long sea of group play followed by a 16-team single elimination tournament. I know we are in America, but 95% of the world's population cares a lot more about soccer's World Cup than the NCAA Tournament. The competition and crowd energy at these games will be intoxicating. If you think Duke/Carolina is a heated rivalry, try a Germany/England futbol matchup on for size.

--Horseshoes. Okay, I am projecting my own family tradition here. But, there is nothing quite like a good horseshoe-throwing tournament at a family reunion or a July 4th shindig. If you are from other areas of the South, you might prefer throwing washers (not the ones used for washing clothes, the little metal backings for bolts). Still other parts of the country might prefer Bocce, badminton, beach volleyball, paddle ball, lawn darts (you'll put your eye out), one-on-one hoops, church league softball, arm wrestling, Texas Hold 'Em, and the like. The point is that you can actually create your own bracket and hang out with family and friends in the process. And you know that beating your overly-competitive Uncle Fred at anything can give you the same sensation as watching your beloved hoops team win a conference tournament game. Enjoy.

Of course, hoops purists need more than any old bracket competition. They need the real thing. For example, Kentucky and Indiana have a two-game set of high school all-star games this month. The June 17 matchup will take place in Bowling Green, and the Kentucky boys return the favor in Indianapolis the following Saturday. So, there are two chances to see Greg Oden this month if you live in the Bluegrass or Hoosier states. In most parts of the country, there are similar competitions occurring and the cost of attendance is usually far less expensive than regular season college hoop games. Take a road trip or an adventure to see some of these contests.

Tourney Expansion Talk
On the heels of George Mason's run to the NCAA Final Four and the success of other non-TV conference teams, serious rumblings about tournament expansion are once again occurring. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is probably the highest-profile advocate for tourney expansion, citing more quality teams, parity, and the massive size of the Big East as reasons for expanding the current 65-team field.

On the surface, expanding the field does not seem like such a bad idea. In this most democratic of national championships (everyone has an avenue), what will adding a few more teams hurt? But, there are definitely some negatives. One group it will definitely hurt is the lower tier conference champions. Automatic qualifiers from conferences like the SWAC, MEAC, Atlantic Sun, Mid-Con and Southern have a hard enough time staying out of the play-in game under the current setup. If there were four or even eight play-in games, these teams would be forced to win a game in Dayton to get into the main draw every season. Meanwhile, 6th and 7th-placed teams from the TV conferences would be slotted in the main draw.

This argument stems from the existing and expanding gulf between power teams and non-power teams. And when I say power, I mean money for the most part. In fact, a few conferences, including the MAC and OVC, have vowed to stop selling themselves to the power conference teams for one-time games. It is common practice for teams in less powerful conference to take $30,000 to 50,000 to go on the road for a one-time matchup against a power conference school. That is how Louisville played 11 of 13 non-conference games on their home court last season. Meanwhile, Grambling played five non-conference games against D-I opponents, all on the road. Power conference teams buy these "sure wins" and roll up gaudy non-conference records leading to lofty RPI rankings for the entire conference. Meanwhile, good conferences that are not power conferences, like the MVC and Colonial, are caught in the middle. Any perceived injustices done to "mid-majors" in the NCAA selection process pales in comparison to the uneven scheduling landscape.

This is an issue that deserves closer examination than an off-season piece can give. Stay tuned for a more detailed piece in the fall.

In closing, October seems far away at this point. However, once football starts in a few weeks, it is a downhill ride to tip-off. Avoid wishing the summer away by getting outside, being active, and enjoying the down time. And, have a blast drawing up those horseshoe brackets.

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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