Mark Titus’s College Basketball Mega Mailbag

I’ve got a ton of emails to respond to and you’ve only got so much time to read things on the Internet before your boss notices, so let’s get right to it. According to tradition, I’m limiting the number of emails to 16 in honor of the Sweet 16. Let’s get down to business.

If Mercer beats Duke, put this in the mailbag so I can laugh at my friends for not believing in the Bears like I told them to.
—Jacob B. (Sent last Wednesday)

Done!

Is there anything worse than people who care about their bracket more than the fun of the tournament? People who aren’t genuine fans of Oklahoma or Duke but were rooting for them over the upset just because of “their bracket” are the reason why the terrorists hate us.

On a side note, why don’t people realize that saying “my bracket is ruined” is not news? “Oh your bracket got busted? Welcome to 99 percent of the people watching this tournament!!!”
—Bryce K.

This is an important reminder from Bryce. Nobody cares about your bracket, especially if you don’t have anything at stake. If you were in a pool with a $500 buy-in, you were one game away from winning the pot, and the team you needed to win lost on a half-court buzzer-beater, MAYBE I’ll listen to your bracket story. Maybe. But even then, the story can’t be longer than one sentence.

Of course, I’m as guilty of bracket bemoaning as everyone else, and maybe even more so. It’s my job to know about college basketball and to have an educated opinion about what might happen in the NCAA tournament, but when I make picks, I just stare at the bracket like it’s written in Wingdings. It sucks to know I followed college basketball all season and my dog is still going to have a better bracket than I do. That’s why Bryce’s reality check is a welcome reminder that nobody cares anyway.

By the way, Bryce is also right about cheering for major upsets. Although I’d like to add that while I love early-round surprises, I don’t want any Cinderellas in the Final Four. By the second weekend of March Madness, I start cheering for powerhouse teams because, as much as I enjoy underdog stories, I enjoy great basketball even more. All season long I’ve wondered what matchups like Arizona-Florida, Florida-Virginia, Florida–Michigan State, and Arizona-Louisville would look like. Now that they might actually happen, I’m not going to cheer for Dayton and Tennessee just so they can have an even better story. I want to see the titans of the sport duke it out on the biggest stage. Plus, what does it say about college basketball’s regular season if a team that finished fifth in the A-10 (Dayton) and a team that finished fourth in the SEC (Tennessee) make the Final Four?

What is your dream Final Four from here?
—John C.

Florida and Arizona are the two best teams and have been for pretty much the entire season. This is the national championship I’m dying to see. Any team from the East region would be great. Iowa State and Virginia play vastly different styles, but they’ve both been fun to watch all season. It’s my dream to create a TV show called Shabazz Vs. the World where Shabazz Napier takes on groups of people in various challenges by himself, so of course I wouldn’t mind seeing UConn in the Final Four. But Michigan State is my pick because the thought of seeing a full-strength Spartan team face off against Florida and/or Arizona is straight-up basketball porn.

And I’ll go with Michigan from the Midwest region. Tennessee is out because I already said I don’t want double-digit seeds in the Final Four. And if Louisville or Kentucky emerges, we’ll have to listen to Kentuckians crow for another year about how the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry is better than Duke–North Carolina.

Why do you hate Villanova’s guts?
—Kevin C. (Sent last Wednesday)

You win, Titus. You win.
—Kevin C. (Sent Sunday morning after Villanova lost to UConn)

How different would the Kansas and Bill Self narrative be if Davidson had made the game-winning 3-pointer in the 2008 Elite Eight?
—Brad H.

Half the emails I got this week were from frustrated Kansas fans, and while this one wasn’t the most passionate (“Was Perry Ellis the worst defender in college basketball this season or is he the worst all-time?”), it is my favorite. “What if?”s can be dangerous, though. We could just as easily flip the situation and ask, “What if Trey Burke didn’t make that 30-footer last season?” I tend to think luck evens out over time, so it’s not exactly fair to say Kansas was lucky to win the 2008 title when you could identify so many other instances when the Jayhawks were unlucky in a loss. Still, I get Brad’s point. Can you imagine if Kansas still hadn’t won a national title since 1988?

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The Jayhawks have been by far the best regular-season team in the country over the past decade. They’ve won 10 straight Big 12 titles and they’ve been seeded fourth or better in every NCAA tournament since 2001. And really, they’ve been pretty good in the tournament, too. While we all make a big deal about Kansas losing to Stanford, Northern Iowa, Bucknell, and Bradley, it’s easy to forget Bill Self is still 26-10 in the NCAA tournament as the Jayhawks’ coach and that he has made the Elite Eight five of his 11 seasons. If the program hadn’t won a title in that span, we’d probably consider Self to be the Leonardo DiCaprio of college basketball (insane résumé without the ultimate prize).

As for the Kansas program, we’d still consider it great if they hadn’t won the 2008 championship, but there would definitely be Internet forums with “Is Kansas ELITE?!?!” threads. Meanwhile, Kansas fans would probably just give up watching sports altogether. Brad’s “what if?” revolved around Davidson’s shot, but I think the more compelling question is “What if Mario Chalmers’s shot to send the 2008 title game to overtime didn’t fall?” Let’s say Chalmers misses and then nothing else that has happened to Kansas since changes. That would mean since the 1988 title, the Jayhawks would have 16 trips to the Sweet 16, nine Elite Eight appearances, six Final Fours, and four losses in the title game. And zero national titles. We’d be dealing with an unprecedented amount of misery. No wonder Chalmers is a deity in Lawrence.

What’s your beef with Scott Drew? He’s taken Baylor to two Elite Eights, two Sweet Sixteens, an NIT championship, and an NIT runner-up in seven years. All for a program that no one really knew or cared about ten years ago.
—Joe L.

Baylor fans misinterpreted my inclusion of Drew on the list of well-known coaches who underperform in March, and they slayed me for it. I meant to compliment Drew. If you had put a gun to my head last week and asked who had the better career NCAA tournament record between Jay Wright and Scott Drew, I would’ve said Wright. I just assumed Drew was terrible in March because coaches at major programs who have more success in March than in the regular season don’t really exist. He’s the glitch in the matrix.

So to answer the question, I think Drew is an above-average coach and that Baylor is extremely lucky to have him. I do take jabs at him from time to time, however, and here’s why: First, he’s had multiple NBA players on his teams just about every year, yet he’s never made back-to-back NCAA tournaments and his teams never come close to contending for Big 12 titles. The bigger reason I criticize Drew, though, is the entire 2012 season. The Bears had enough talent to compete with Kentucky and North Carolina for a national title that year, which is why I jumped on the Baylor bandwagon early and followed the team all season. But by the end of that run, Drew’s stubborn faith in his zone defense had completely numbed my brain. I won’t revisit all the reasons why I hated the Drew Zone that season, but I will remind you that it forced Quincy Acy, one of the best shot-blockers in college basketball, away from the basket to close out on shooters, and Drew never seemed to realize it was killing his team. If Drew had recognized how talented and athletic his team was that year and had instead opted to play man-to-man all season, Baylor could’ve won the Big 12 and competed for a national title.

But the Bears did make the Elite Eight and played pretty well against national champion Kentucky that year, so between that and Drew’s surprisingly good record in March, I now have no idea what to make of the guy.

Over the past few tournaments the camera crew has always been drawn to a few players’ moms. Do we have any candidates for that honor this year? Could we see a shift from this to young children sobbing?
—Ben R.

First off, shout-out to Sonya Curry and Peyton Siva’s dad, wherever they may be. They took the parent cam to new levels last season, and their efforts should be remembered by college basketball fans for years to come. In fact, I’m going to personally induct them into the Parent Hall of Fame right now. Mrs. Curry, Mr. Siva, how do you feel about your induction?

As for your questions, I’ll answer the second part first: I certainly hope the cry cam doesn’t replace the parent cam. Watching that Kansas kid bawl his eyes out was heartbreaking, and not in the “aww, he really loves basketball” way. I just couldn’t stop thinking about how that kid will be bullied for the rest of his life, starting the moment he gets back to school. Just when you think the Richie Incognito–Jonathan Martin story was a big step in the right direction to snuff out bullying, CBS basically put a flashing graphic on the screen that read “GIVE THIS KID A WEDGIE” with an arrow pointing to his tears. I don’t feel bad when adults get caught crying because they’re old enough to protect themselves and control their own emotions, if they choose to do so. But young kids don’t have that kind of self-restraint. They just exist on autopilot until they reach the age where Dora the Explorer asks where the fox is and they say, “Are you shitting me, Dora? He’s right in front of your f’ing face.”

Anyway, to answer your first question, I have three words: Archie Miller’s wife.

There are four games each on Thursday and Friday. Instead of running them in succession, we have two around 7:30 p.m. EDT and two more around 10. Why? I want to watch all these games, not half of them. I understand the appeal of broadcasting games in prime time, but people who love the tournament want to watch all the games.

This isn’t difficult. Play the first game at 4, the second at 6, then 8, and then 10. The 4:00 and 8:00 games are at the same site, while the 6 and 10 games go together. This prevents any problems due to a game going into overtime. Obviously the west coast would be the 6:00 and 10:00 games.

I have to choose between Kentucky-Louisville and Michigan State-Virginia on Friday night, and I’m not happy about it.
—Andy W.

You answered your own question: “I understand the appeal of broadcasting games in prime time.” CBS doesn’t care about die-hard college basketball fans, and I don’t blame the network. It knows we’ll watch if the games start at three in the morning on a Tuesday. To maximize its audience, CBS has to make the games convenient for the millions of people who can name no more than five college basketball players but still consider themselves sports fans and enjoy watching the tourney. Plus, scheduling two games at once gives CBS an insurance policy in case one is a dud. I can’t imagine too many people are going to care much about Stanford-Dayton. If that game is played at four, it’s guaranteed to get no ratings. But if it’s on at 7:15, and the Iowa State–UConn game at 7:27 turns out to be a blowout, then maybe some viewers flip over.

I’m with you, though, in that I wish there were a way to watch all the Sweet 16 games live. What about this idea: They could move the regional semifinals to Saturday and Sunday, and then play the Elite Eight games on Monday and Tuesday. This way, you could spread the four games on each weekend day throughout the entire day like ESPN does throughout the season. And since there are only two Elite Eight games to be played each day, CBS could air those at, say, 7:15 and 9:45 on Monday and Tuesday night. With the Final Four starting the following Saturday, this would still give Tuesday’s winners four days off between games, which is the same amount of time teams got between the second-round games and the Sweet 16.

Alas, I’m sure this idea has already been pitched to CBS and research showed that doing it this way would make the network $13 less than it makes with the current system, so it was shot down and will never be considered again.

Who would be the 5 heels and the 5 faces from players in this year’s tournament to be in a WWE-style Survivor Series match?
—Nick C.

Faces: Joe Harris (Virginia), Patric Young (Florida), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Jordair Jett (St. Louis), Shabazz Napier (UConn)

Heels: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), Justin Jackson (Cincinnati), Scottie Wilbekin (Florida), Quinn Cook (Duke)

Nik Stauskas is a face with a heel turn on the horizon. Cleanthony Early is the heel everyone loves anyway. Aaron Craft is John Cena.

Will Adreian Payne be a huge steal for some NBA team on draft night?
—Matt L.

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Yes. I love Payne’s game, which is why I chose him as the best player in the Big Ten in my preseason preview. And honestly, even with the season Nik Stauskas has had and the flashes of brilliance Gary Harris has shown, I’d still draft Payne over those two. The guy is a 6-foot-10, 245-pound monster on the low block who can put the ball on the deck and hit step-back 3s. What more could you want?

What’s scary is that even though Payne is a senior, he’s not even close to reaching his potential. Remember the Indiana game in Bloomington last season, when he went for 18-and-9, made multiple 3s in a game for the first time in his career, and had his swagger turned up to 11? That was the turning point in Payne’s career — you could almost see him realize it during that game. He went from being just another Michigan State big guy to a legitimate first-round talent. Well, that game was played on January 27, meaning Adreian Payne 2.0 had only half of last season and all of this year’s injury-plagued season to grow. Give him a few years of uninterrupted health and an NBA system that creates space for him to operate on the low block and in the pick-and-pop, and I really do think he could become one of the best players in this draft class.

I’ll admit it: I’m an SEC homer. But if you had to rank the top 5 teams nobody wants to play right now, you’d have to include Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee in some order, right?
—Trayton M.

You’re overvaluing Kentucky’s win over Wichita State just a little, in the sense that we still aren’t entirely sure how good the Shockers were this year and Kentucky lost back-to-back games to Arkansas and South Carolina less than a month ago. Your larger point hits the bull’s-eye, though, and I take back every joke I made about SEC basketball this season.

By the way, here’s how I’d power rank the Sweet 16 teams, based on how badly other teams wouldn’t want to play them right now:

1. Florida
2. Michigan State
3. Tennessee
4. Virginia
5. Louisville
6. Michigan
7. UCLA
8. Arizona
9. Kentucky
10. Baylor
11. UConn
12. Iowa State
13. Wisconsin
14. San Diego State
15. Stanford
16. Dayton

Everyone hates the “official review,” right?
—Andy D.

Do you mean the times the refs kill the flow of a game that already gets interrupted too often to spend 10 minutes poring over a decision the TV audience sorted out in a matter of seconds? Do you mean how refs basically reward teams that are low on timeouts with free timeouts? By “official review,” do you mean those instances where another ref could’ve been reviewing the replay as the game was going on so that when the normal refs decide they need to take a look at something, he could just tell them what happened?

I don’t want to speak for everybody, but yeah, pretty much everybody hates those.

What is the appropriate response to having your career end after you are upset in the tourney or when you lose a close game? When Ohio State lost, a teammate rushed Aaron Craft up on his feet and off the floor. I was hoping for the Adam Morrison collapse-to-the-floor-in-tears thing, and I know I can’t be the only one. Should players let all the emotion out and give the viewers what they want, or brush it off as though they are above the moment?
—Shane H.

There’s no way to say this without sounding like a heartless bastard, but I love seeing guys fall to the floor after a loss. This doesn’t mean I cackle and rub my hands together when players’ careers come to an end or that I got pleasure out of the picture of Arizona State’s bench after it lost to Texas. I just think these moments are reminders of what makes college basketball great. Seniors who lose know there is no next year. Arguing over college basketball versus the NBA is dumb because people can like whatever they want, but I like college ball so much because you would NEVER see something like how LeBron’s last game for Cleveland played out, when the Cavs clearly gave up and LeBron couldn’t get his jersey off fast enough.

Morrison crying was maybe a little overboard, especially since the game wasn’t even over and Gonzaga still had a chance when his tears started flowing (and, you know, that commercial). But I’m fine with guys getting choked up. Let the kids who put only one strap of their backpack over their shoulder in junior high be cool. These guys got really close to accomplishing something they’d dreamed about their entire lives. This is the moment they’ve realized not only that they failed, but also that they’ll never have another chance to achieve it. I’m not going to judge them for being visibly upset about it.

How hypocritical is it to have Chris Webber be in commercials for Burger King, who is an official sponsor of the NCAA?
—Joe L.

Whoa, I hadn’t even thought of this. Good catch. You have to admit, though, it makes sense that a member of the Fab Five is doing a commercial for a fast-food joint that perpetually finds itself in second place.

My friends and I somehow always ended up naming a March Madness “All-Handsome Team.” I’d love your input.

MVP: Joe Harris, Duh.
G: Jarrod Polson, UK
G: Matt Thomas, ISU
F: James Michael McAdoo

And that’s all I really have now. Luke Hancock’s bright eyes are pushing for a spot. I’m a Zags fan and I think the Pangos/Stockton backcourt is just adorable. The Harrison twins have the twin thing going on.

All-Handsome Coach is a toss-up between Jay Wright, Fred Hoiberg, and Tony Bennett.

Also, everyone involved with this is a 22- or 23-year-old straight male. Just wanna add that.
—Shane M.

It’s Shane’s world and we’re all just living in it.

Thanks as always for all the great emails! I’m doing at least one more mailbag before the season is over, so keep sending them my way. In the meantime, enjoy the Sweet 16!

Filed Under: College Basketball, 2014 NCAA Tournament, Mark Titus

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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.

Archive @ clubtrillion