Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It's Tough To Dominate the NIT

As is obvious, I neglected to update yesterday. I’m easing into the offseason, and just didn’t have much to say. Without a game to watch every night, what the heck am I going to talk about? After next week, I’m only going to be updating when I damn well feel like it, anyway, so anyone who’s looking to me for a daily fix might as well get used to it (though I’m probably going to be doing a non-basketball related side-project during the offseason, but more on that another time). For today, though, here’s three random thoughts rolling around my head:

1) I’ve resisted for a few days discussing the selection of Andy Polka as Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin, since my first reaction was, well, not exactly well-reasoned (I found out about the selection when I got home from a Saturday night out and checked the Journal Sentinel website before going to bed. Not typically the time when rational thought is at its most abundant.). Obviously, I’ve seen Jerry Smith so many times, and I’m such a fan that I thought he should have won the award. I’m pretty sure that I believe simply because he’s the best player, but I recognize that I might not be the most objective person in the world on this one.

All that said, I’ve heard a lot of defenses of why Polka was a worthy award winner. One of them actually rings true with me, although the most commonly cited line of reasoning doesn’t really convince me. The most common thing that people talk about when discussing why Polka won the award is the fact that he had a dominant state tournament and his undefeated team won the state title. This is true. I only had the pleasure of seeing three Oshkosh West games this year, and in 10 out of the 12 quarters of play that I watched, Polka was near flawless. I don’t find this a compelling argument for him being Mr. Basketball, though. He was the best player on the championship team, and accordingly won the MVP of the tournament to go along with his team’s state title. That was the appropriate award for his efforts. Mr. Basketball’s about the entire season, though, not some three-game stretch.

That said, I noted that I did find one compelling argument for Polka’s reign as Mr. Basketball. It’s sort of related to the reason that I find flawed, but it’s a bit different argument, so bear with me, since it’s tough to see the distinction that I make. Part of me views Polka as a mini version of Oshkosh West. Because guys like me think bigger city teams (and by extension, players) are inherently better, a team like Oshkosh West can go the entire season undefeated and still show up at the tournament with people thinking that it’s about the third or fourth best team in the field. Then they go out and win the title, and wrap up an undefeated season. Being undefeated, one could extrapolate that they’ve been doing this all along, but guys like me just dismissed it because we couldn’t see or read about Oshkosh West every night. By the same token, one could also extrapolate that Polka, who was dominant in just about every minute that he played at state, must have been dominant all year playing up in Oshkosh, but didn’t get the same attention as Trevon Hughes or Jerry Smith, as Oshkosh isn’t exactly a huge media center.
So in that respect, maybe it’s appropriate that Polka won the award at state, by showing us a glimpse of what was likely a dominant season for him. I still think Smith’s the better pick, but after I reasoned it out, Polka’s not as ridiculous a selection as I thought at 2am on Sunday morning.

2) The NIT is officially weird this year. Michigan and South Carolina, the 2004 and 2005 NIT champs, respectively, both advanced to the final game, meaning either Michigan will have two out of three NIT titles over the past three years, or South Carolina will take home back-to-back NIT championships. Think about how improbable that is. It occurred to me upon seeing this matchup that back-to-back NIT titles is a lot more difficult to pull off than back-to-back NCAA titles. Sure, the NCAA games are going to be against tougher opponents, but if you’re a truly excellent team, playing two seasons of national championship basketball isn’t that outlandish an idea. Consecutive NIT championships, though? First, you have to make sure that your team is just mediocre enough to not make the NCAA tournament. Make sure, of course, that you don’t peak too soon and win the conference tournament. Then, once your mediocrity is solidified, you have to play a series of games against other mediocre opponents where, unlike lots of NCAA tournament games, there is no clear favorite. You’re flipping a coin every night. And for South Carolina and Michigan, that coin keeps coming up heads. Awesome feat if either school can pull it off, though I’m pretty sure that neither Tommy Amaker nor Dave Odom would rather not have their teams known as perennial NIT contenders.

3) Someone out there is listening to me (sort of). In my last update I complained about how I never see those old Final Four retrospectives on ESPN anymore. And while I still haven’t seen any of the old, charming, Bob Ley-hosted looks at Final Fours from the 1970's and early 1980's, last night CSTV took a break from showing women’s college lacrosse and ran a bunch of Jim Nantz-narrated looks back at early 1990s Final Fours. At an hour long, they didn’t have the same over-condensed charm of the earlier incarnations, but they were still pretty entertaining. Seeing Mark Randall’s mullet and Mark Macon’s high-top fade was almost as good at seeing Bill Walton get above the rim and calmly drop the ball through the hoop due to the no-dunk rule. So CSTV, I salute you for last night’s programming, even if I fully expect to arrive home and find the NAIA Division 5 Coed Horseshoe championships on tonight’s schedule.

That’s it for today. We’ll see if anything moves me to update tomorrow. (Yeah, I may be limping into the end of the season, but at least I’m very aware that I’m struggling to finish out the year.)


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