March Madness Mailbag!

 Jim BoeheimThis week, we asked for your e-mails about March Madness for another mailbag from Grantland’s favorite walk-on, Mark Titus. Here are a few of the questions that hit Titus’s inbox.

Is there anything worse in college basketball than the TV timeouts? I was at the tournament games in Portland on Thursday and it seemed like I spent more time looking at an empty floor than the games. They kill any momentum and flow a game has. Why anyone would pay to go to tournament games when they could stay at home and change channels during the timeouts is beyond me. I learned my lesson.

The only thing worse than the TV timeouts was that they didn’t serve beer in the Rose Garden!
—Seth

Media timeouts do destroy the flow of the game, but they’re kind of a necessary evil. I’m guessing most players like them, too, because the guaranteed breaks give guys a chance to catch their breath. I do think full timeouts should be able to replace TV timeouts, though. So, for example, if a coach calls a full timeout with nine minutes left and all of the media outlets cut to commercials, it should take the place of the under-eight media timeout.

Anyway, as TVs continue to get bigger and better, attendance will be an increasing problem for all sports. But it’s especially a problem for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, and is exactly why we saw so many half-full arenas last week. Unless you are a die-hard fan of one of the teams or there’s a guy playing who you have to see in person, it doesn’t make any sense to spend a couple hundred bucks on tickets, parking, and food to watch games live when you can sit on your couch for free and flip between different games or set up multiple TVs and watch them all at once. And of course, there’s the issue of the NCAA banning alcohol at the games, which I’m pretty sure is proof that the terrorists are winning.

Are people underestimating Florida? They’ve outscored their first two opponents by a combined 60 points, they have a top 10 NBA draft pick in Bradley Beal, a first-round prospect in Patric Young, and a coach with back-to-back national championships on his résumé. Can they get past Marquette? And if so, how far can you see Florida going?
—Jeremiah, Redding, Calif.

I don’t want to get too carried away with Florida’s two wins because even though Virginia was a solid team this year and Norfolk State lit up Missouri, at the end of the day all the Gators did was beat up on two double-digit seeds. That said, hanging 71 on Virginia’s stingy defense while shooting terribly from behind the arc is impressive. It tells me Florida isn’t the “live and die by the 3” team I thought it was. The Gators don’t have anybody who can guard Jae Crowder and they’ll have to shoot better than they have been to beat Marquette, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they pulled off the upset and even made it to the Final Four for all the reasons you mentioned. I’m just a little bummed that they won’t get to play Iowa State in the Final Four and didn’t get to face Missouri in the second round, because we could’ve just wheeled out racks of balls and had a 3-point contest to decide the winner of both of those games.

I’m an Ohio alum and lifelong North Carolina fan. The minute the OU game ended on Sunday, I received about 20 texts from friends and family asking me who I would be rooting for in the Sweet 16. Then about 100 texts berating me for picking the Heels. Am I wrong for going with my childhood team? Should my allegiance be with my alma mater? Help me out, man.
—Matt, Columbus, Ohio

As a lifelong Indiana fan who holds a degree from Ohio State, I often find myself in your position. And while there are few things that have mattered to me more in my life than Indiana basketball, when the Buckeyes play the Hoosiers, I want nothing more than for Tom Crean and his repulsive haircut to suck a fat one. Maybe my situation is a different because I was actually on the Ohio State team, but I just can’t envision a scenario in which rooting against an alma mater is acceptable, especially in your case. I mean, this is Ohio’s first trip to the Sweet 16, and could literally be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to cheer on the Bobcats in a game of this magnitude. A win Friday would mean infinitely more to Ohio than to North Carolina, which is why you should throw your childhood allegiances out the window and cheer on the school that provided you with the opportunity to make so many irresponsible decisions.

If nothing else, look at it this way: As a guy who graduated from the no. 1 party school in America and has a full understanding of just how wild Ohio can get, do you really want to deprive all of the current students the opportunity to celebrate the unprecedented win by throwing some of the most kickass parties in school history? Are you really that selfish?

What will have the bigger negative impact: Kendall Marshall’s wrist or Fab Melo’s continuing ineligibility?
—Korby, Wichita, Kan.

As big of a blow as it is for Syracuse to not have Melo, if I were a North Carolina fan, I would’ve had a Jason Russell meltdown upon hearing the news about Kendall Marshall — Carolina is doomed against Kansas or NC State if he can’t play. Syracuse’s zone is what the Orange hang their hats on and Melo has been the crown jewel of that defense all year long, but all ‘Cuse really needs is for Rakeem Christmas to take up space, communicate, block/alter shots, and rebound. Sure, there’s some skill involved with that, but for the most part, coach Jim Boeheim is probably just telling Christmas that all he needs to do is be big and active. Marshall, though, has a specific skill set (get the ball to the right guys at the right times) that has not only been crucial to Carolina’s success this year, but also can’t be replicated by anyone else on the Heels’ roster.

Marshall’s fracture is being compared to Tyus Edney’s 1995 wrist injury, when Cameron Dollar filled in for him in the championship and had eight assists to help UCLA win the title. But I think the better comparison is when Adam Banks went down with a wrist injury in D2 and the Ducks recruited Russ Tyler to take his place. The void left by Marshall/Banks could never be filled, but Carolina fans can at least cross their fingers that maybe Stilman White has a few knucklepucks up his sleeve.

(Speaking of D2, why is it so hard to figure out if Marshall is going to play? Can’t someone just give him a hockey stick and ask him to rotate his wrist while holding it? How can a university with a top medical school not realize that that’s all that matters when evaluating a wrist injury?)

Do you think my Buzzcuts have a shot against Syracuse? I know the Orange are much more athletic, but the pace Wisconsin plays will slow them down. Also, I like Josh Gasser, Jordan Taylor, and Ben Brust’s ability to shoot the 3 against the 2-3 zone.
—Peter

Not only do I think the Buzzcuts have a shot — I actually expect them to win. The keys to beating Syracuse’s zone are to be patient, be smart, and have good shooters, all of which shouldn’t be a problem for the Buzzcuts. Everyone knows that against a 2-3 zone, you want to get the ball to the high post and short corners, but far too often, teams fall into the trap of passing it around the perimeter for 30 seconds before forcing up a challenged 3 as the shot clock runs out. With an experienced team and a heady point guard, I don’t anticipate this being a problem for the Buzzcuts, as I fully expect Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz to wreak havoc in the high post, Gasser and Brust to knock down some 3s to stretch the defense and give Taylor lanes to penetrate, and Ryan Evans to continue shaming his team by rocking the high-top fade instead of the buzz cut like everyone else. Plus, there’s this e-mail from Brandon in Wheaton, Ill., that brings up a good stat that I’m too lazy to fact check:

Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim is just 4-7 in the Sweet 16 with Syracuse. For comparison sake, John Calipari, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, and Rick Pitino are 33-8 combined in the same round. Does the 2-3 zone just not work that well when coaches have the entire week to prepare good teams for it?

This is a somewhat alarming stat that can’t be ignored, which is why I expect the Buzzcuts to have their way against Syracuse’s zone. And since so much of the Orange’s offense comes from transition off turnovers, if the Buzzcuts can take care of the ball, control the tempo, and play hard-nosed defense like usual, I could see Syracuse getting frustrated on offense and forcing bad shots.

Isn’t the most annoying commercial the one where Greg Anthony poses the question “Is it March Mildness?” in a really girly way, then responds to his own question with a “Nooooo, it’s March Madness!” and then it turns out it’s a commercial for washing machines? The Buick Verano commercial should win a freaking Oscar by comparison.
—Alex, Los Angeles

I’m pretty sure that a grand total of seven commercials were made for the tournament and each commercial break CBS/TNT/TBS/truTV just picks a few of those seven. Because of this, every commercial shown during the tournament has become unfathomably annoying, but the presence of a song set some apart from others. No matter how good or bad the song might be, if I see a commercial with a song more than 10 times, I loathe the song and vow to never buy anything from the company responsible for the commercial. This is why even though the Greg Anthony commercial has long worn out its welcome and the guy who drove his friends 900 miles for Taco Bell is such a loser that he completely deserves the diarrhea it inevitably gave him, I’d be willing to give up Christmas this year if it meant I never had to hear the guy with heart-shaped glasses yell about how it started with a whisper, those middle-aged douches in the Chevy butchering Spandau Ballet, or Pitbull being Pitbull ever again.

This is also why I’m terrified of the thought of Chipotle making a March Madness ad featuring “Courtesy of The Red, White, And Blue.” I’m not sure how I’d handle that one.

You became an unofficial Baylor fan early in the season when the team was undefeated. You were mystified by Scott Drew’s zone that allowed open shots by the dozen. Starting in the Big 12 tournament, the Bears have primarily run a man defense and have since gone 4-1. How are you feeling about the Bears’ switch, and what are their chances the rest of the way out?
—Lance

There isn’t a bandwagon Baylor fan more excited about this switch than me. The zone has been effective for Drew in the past, but it was obvious to me early on that this Baylor team just didn’t have the right personnel to play that particular defense, so switching mostly to man has been a welcome change. With Kendall Marshall’s status in question, Baylor could make a case for being the second-most talented team left in the tournament behind Kentucky, so I don’t think a national title is out of the question, especially if Brady Heslip stays hot. It is out of the question, however, if Perry Jones doesn’t snap out of his slump, because Baylor is going to have a tough time beating Xavier and will likely get their asses handed to them by Indiana or Kentucky if Jones has any more 1-6 or 3-8 games.

I was watching the Purdue-Kansas game and I noticed an under-reported aspect of the game. Thomas Robinson started the game rocking the double arm sleeves. With about 5 minutes to go in the game and Robinson frustrated, he went to the bench. He came back in without the sleeves. Kansas came back to win. Coincidence?
—Will

Yes.

I’m interested in hearing your analysis on how the game changes if Aaron Craft plays as aggressively on offense as he did against Gonzaga. If Craft is as efficient on the offensive end as he was Saturday, can the Buckeyes be beaten?
—Bob

If Ohio State plays defense as well as they typically do and if Craft’s offensive efficiency doesn’t result in Jared Sullinger, William Buford, or Deshaun Thomas playing a lesser role offensively, the only team that can beat the Buckeyes is Kentucky. Of course, this is a big “if.” By my count, these four guys have all had good games offensively just twice this season — against Duke at home in November and against Purdue in the Big Ten tournament — and not surprisingly both games were blowout wins against NCAA tournament teams. For most of the year, Craft has been somewhat of an offensive liability (not because he lacked the talent but because he lacked the confidence and/or aggressiveness to make plays), so his emergence has been huge for Ohio State because it makes defenses have to guard all five guys on the court, which creates more one-on-one situations for Sullinger, Buford, and Thomas. It’s not like Craft has to score 17 points in these next four games for Ohio State to win the national title, but just seeing him play aggressively is a good sign because it gives the opposition one more thing to have to worry about.

I think the second most annoying trend this year (second to the loose butthole monocle celebration, of course) is the rolling of the ball inbounds in an effort to save time at the end of a game. Has there ever been a single instance of a successful, time-saving ball-roll in any game? What is it about March Madness that causes everyone to ditch the chest pass in the waning seconds to mosey the ball inbounds 20 feet like they’re releasing a baby panda into the wild?
—Kevin, Boulder, Colo.

I have no answer for this and only included it so everyone reading will envision a baby panda being released into the wild when a team inevitably uses the roll tactic at the end of one of the games this weekend. So thanks for that, Kevin.

Filed Under: College Basketball, March Madness, Mark Titus, NCAA tournament

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Mark Titus is the founder and author of the blog Club Trillion. His book, Don’t Put Me In, Coach, chronicles his career as a walk-on benchwarmer for the Ohio State basketball team and is on sale now.

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