The March to March
This month on Twitter, accounts from all over the state of Michigan took shots at local Detroit area and Michigan newspapers due to the imbalance of coverage on the two major universities in the state. Many disgruntled college sports fans claim that Michigan State undergoes exponentially more scrutiny than its cross town rival. This all after University of Michigan start point guard Zavier Simpson crashed the athletic director’s car into a light pole at 3 a.m. in the first week of February. Here’s the kicker: no major paper in the state covered the story. ESPN and several other big name national news outlets covered the story, but the local papers are busy covering speeding tickets for former MSU players.
Simpson, once the police arrived on the scene, was neither given a breathalyzer or questioned about her how he had possession of the AD’s car. Furthermore, the school initially decided they were unclear which rules he broke, but later decided to “handle it within” and suspended Simpson for one game for violation of an undisclosed team policy. I’m not personally aware of any coverage from the Detroit Free Press or any other local news agencies (I get updates about their posts on college sports), but if my twitter feed is saturated with disgruntled fans the companies should at least reflect on the type of light they shed on each university with their coverage.
Will distractions like these impact Michigan’s production heading into March? Michigan went through a tough stretch due to the injury of one of their best shooters who also doubles as an experienced defender. Teams that lose learn how to win. Michigan will be a force in both the the Big Ten Tournament and the March Madness tournament. The Big Ten is currently projected to have 11 teams in the March Madness Tournament: not far from 25% of the entire field. With only four regions, however, several Big Ten teams will bounce each other out where they could potentially have beaten weaker teams from weaker conferences. Despite this, the Big Ten could still see four teams reach the Sweet Sixteen. I mean, take your pick: Maryland, Penn State, Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers, Wisconsin, pretty much anyone but Northwestern.
Save yourself some heart break (and busted brackets), don’t believe the hype on Baylor, Gonzaga, SDSU, Louisville, or Dayton. Winning teams don’t necessarily win in March. There are so many other factors at play but there are two things I can tell you: history repeats itself, and chokers will choke. Gonzaga goes through regular season as the team to beat every year. Great program, but they can never make any noise in the tournament. Dayton is a team you can count on to pull off a big upset, then quietly disappear from the scene. Problem is, if you’re a one or two seed you’re a team being upset, not doing the upsetting. San Diego State University is in a similar boat; great coaching, players who buy in, tenacity capable of pulling an upset, but lacking the talent to hang with power five conference teams on a nightly basis. Change the conference and both Dayton and SDSU well still post decent records, but more middle of the pack.
Louisville is used to making some noise, but is also notorious for choking against good squads with great coaches. If they could avoid any ACC or Big Ten teams they could potentially make a deeper than normal run, but the odds of any team avoiding one of those conferences is extremely slim (even if you’re from the conference). Baylor has a solid squad, but one point I make every year is that guard play determines the Final Four. The inside out combo of a guard and big man works for a while, but ask Ohio State and Michigan how that works out long term. Both teams dominated in non conference play, but didn’t last down the stretch with that format. Baylor will go through a similar situation: they need a go to guard. Jared Butler has been great for Baylor, along with the supporting guards on the roster, but Final Four teams are typically led by a guy averaging at least 18 points per game, with at least 5 assists per game and a low assist to turnover ratio. All of this is paired with higher than average 3pt shooting percentage. While this seems rare (because it is), making the Final Four is also a rare feat, and though Baylor has a myriad of things to throw at you, the metrics just don’t quite stack up for me to place faith in them. Let’s not even mention the fact that no current player has seen a deep tournament run.
Instead turn to Myles Powell of Seton Hall. This phenom averaged just over 21 points per game, and while he may fall short in a couple of the other categories, he is a complete dog with a clutch mentality and big play ability. The team buys into his leadership, but he still has three teammates who at at that 10 points per game mark. The Big East has a number of good teams, so conference plays help to toughen each of them up. Beware though, that Villanova tends to be the only Big East team in recent history to be able to get deep into the tourney. While I am a fan of other Big East teams, for some reason they come up short and leave me disappointed, almost as much as Arizona does every year for the ESPN analysts.
Those who play well in the tournament raise their draft stock (thank recency bias for that). Guys get a chance to show how they perform under pressure. One of last years benefactores of this trend is current rookie of the year award front runner Ja Morant. The only player close enough to contend with him for it would’ve been a healthy Zion Williamson, but missing half the season may have hurt his case. The fact that Morant has an otherwise garbage team in contention for the playoffs is another factor. I would love to see Morant lead his squad to a first round victory. Unfortunately, that means he must find a way to will his team to at least the sixth spot in the western conference. Memphis is currently five games behind both the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks.
Expect the second half of the NBA to be a wild ride. The playoffs though, will be even wilder! Can the Lakers remain in first place? Can anyone beat them in a seven game series? Are the Nuggets being overlooked? The NBA is finally fun again.