Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012
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What Won The Championship For Kentucky?

Last night it was pretty clear: The best team won. And along with the title, John Calipari's Wildcats surely deserve consideration as one the best teams of the decade, rivaled only by the 2009 North Carolina squad and Duke in 2002. This season, Kentucky played superior defense, and they played unselfishly, two hallmarks of championship teams that deserve a special place in the conversation of “best ever.”

Of course, many fans around college basketball root against Kentucky; that’s just a fact. And it was already the case before Calipari arrived in Lexington. The program has deserved some of its bad reputation, most notably due to a massive recruiting scandal in [...]

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Grading The Final Four

After two weeks of exhilarating games, we're down to four teams—and what a four it is. All four are among college basketball's most elite programs, with 49 Final Four appearances and 13 NCAA titles between them. While the Kentucky Wildcats will enter the final weekend as the favorite, all four schools have a legitimate chance to bring home the 2012 national title. Let's look ahead and examine why each of these four squads might—or might not—win it all.

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A Crash Guide To Filling Out Your Bracket

So how many NCAA basketball games did you watch this year? Two, three? One with a couple of college friends at a sports bar get-together? And now it's tournament time, and you're scrambling to find out which teams to pick in your technically illegal office NCAA tournament pool. I'm here to help, with some advice and pointers, broken down by region.

Of course, the great allure of the NCAA tournament, beyond the sheer zaniness and the last-second shots and the leaping and the raw elation of the winners, is the unpredictability of it all. While there is a method to the Madness, it's important to remember that nothing about [...]

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Eight Teams Perched, Precariously, On The Bubble

We're now two weeks away from Selection Sunday, and Bubble Watching appears to have become the number-one pastime in the country. Judging from the sheer number of ‘Bubble Watch’ segments out there, every major sports outlet wants to try their hand, apparently. But then that's all part of the fun of the NCAA tournament process, and the anticipation and prognostication over who's in, who’s out and who’s sweating it will last until the CBS crew finishes announcing the brackets. In the spirit of fellowship, let's enter the fray and do some Bubble Watching of our own.

UCONN (17-11, 7-9 Big East) As the defending national champion (and preseason top [...]

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The Race For Player Of The Year

We're about halfway through the conference season, and teams are beginning to sift into tiers of Final Four contention. Now is when talk of college basketball's individual honors starts to heat up, too. Some players who dominated last November have cooled off, while others have seen their stars rise. Interestingly, in each of the past five years (save when John Wall took the Rupp Award in 2010), one player each season has swept all six of the major Player of the Year honors: the Wooden, Naismith, Rupp, Robertson, AP and NABC. Last season, it was flashy BYU guard Jimmer Fredette who took home all the hardware.

Sportswriters traditionally make [...]

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Four Monsters Of The Mid-Majors

We hear a lot about the teams that play in power conferences like the Big East, Big 10 and the ACC. Stronger teams from the mid-major conferences often get overlooked—which is too bad as many of them would present strong competition given the opportunity.

In basketball, unlike football, a single talented player can be the difference between a competitive team and a truly dangerous one. When a lower-profile program manages to end up with either a superior, pro-caliber player or more than one guy who could suit up at a high major program, that team goes from an upset possibility to a potential Sweet 16 team.

With [...]

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Five Teams That Would Like To Forget Last Week Ever Happened

In the language of coaching, there's rarely a distinction given between a “good” and a “bad” loss. Listen to some post-game press conferences and the line is almost always the same: a loss is a loss, whether the difference was one point or 31. But anyone who's ever been a part of a team sport knows this is just bunk—if you've ever been on the receiving end of a real, honest-to-goodness beatdown, you know that it leaves a mark. Taking a licking inside the lines can make a team question whether it's actually capable of winning. Winning is often an act of mental fortitude, and one part of a [...]

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A Midseason Tally: Who's Up, Who's Down

The non-conference season is over for most of college basketball, and midterm grades are out. Figuratively speaking, a few teams aced the first half, some have made a habit of relying on extensions and a bunch demonstrated that, frankly, they're not all that bright. None of the preseason top four teams is undefeated, and four of the preseason top 15 teams aren’t even ranked (Memphis, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh and Xavier).

Of course, there's plenty of season left. A whole slew of teams currently flying high will bottom out in the conference campaign, and a few teams no one is talking about will finish in the top half. The pre-conference games [...]

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Bad Blood, Great Finishes Mark Early Season Rivalries

Each February, the ESPN mothership in Bristol, Conn., dictates one week in the college basketball season as “Rivalry Week." The games over that particular stretch of days contain some of the biggest and baddest conference match-ups in the nation. Typically, North Carolina against Duke in one featured game, Kentucky and Florida in another, perhaps Syracuse meeting Connecticut, too. But few of these games really ratchet things up to 11. You may see a cut chin or some yapping, but the stakes for really getting into it with a conference foe, especially late in the year when NCAA seeding and participation and jockeying for conference preeminence are at the [...]

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Who Got Hurt (And Helped) By The Thanksgiving Tourneys

Since 2006, when the NCAA relaxed the rules on programs participating in so-called “exempt” early-season tournaments, there's been a proliferation of made-for-TV preseason events. This year, it seems there’s been a supernova of them: large and small, exotic locales and more familiar ones. Organizers try to pack as many as a dozen games into a few days to maximize competition and, more importantly in their eyes, occupancy at the resorts and venues that host.

Travel tournaments date back to the 1960s, but they really gained prominence in the '80s when big-name programs began using the events to boost name recognition and to spend some quality time bonding. Of course, [...]

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The Players And Coaches Who'll Make This Season Amazing

The monolithic entity we call ‘Sports’ has had a rotten run of late. First, there was a month of non-stop coverage of what is consistently the most depressing and least enjoyable aspect of sports—owner-athlete financial bickering—when the NFL locked out. Then we had weeks of breaking coverage of the huge money grab and rivalry-busting of the major college football powerhouses and conferences. Then the NBA managed its own lockout (with attendant financial bickering). Then Tony La Russa and the Cardinals won the World Series, subjecting the rest of us to an entire post-and off-season of the oft-repeated fallacy that St. Louis is somehow a better America. And then we [...]

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Looking Back At A Gloriously Imperfect Season

Another long college basketball season came to an end last night in perhaps the most unsatisfactory way imaginable. Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun—one of the game’s least likeable and hardest to root for figures—walked off the floor in glory as Butler, everybody’s Cinderella, thoroughly humiliated itself in its biggest game. It’s impossible to sugarcoat just how bad the final was; it was without a doubt the poorest championship game in memory.

An odd end to what was an odd and, ultimately, probably pretty forgettable season. Here, at the end, let's look back at some of the major moments and storylines and how they may appear to us in the [...]

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The Duke of Indiana

It doesn’t take much to build a winning basketball program. Just wins and consistency and star players and loyalty and, oh right, lots and lots of wins. Big wins. Tournament wins. And yet, there are programs across the country that have done the winning part but still been thwarted on the way to lasting prominence by some unlucky combination of coaching attrition, failures in recruiting and/or the wrong bounce of the ball happening a few too many times.

This is what makes Butler University so fascinating. With this year's return to the Final Four, Butler is emerging as a legitimate basketball power—a title very few so-called “mid-major” programs [...]

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On To the Sweet 16!

After four bustling days of NCAA tournament action, a few truths have become clear: the Big East Conference was every bit as overrated as it looked before the tournament began; the era wherein referees’ decisions were considered sacrosanct is over; and Virginia is for basketball lovers.

Of the preposterous ten Big East teams that we were told deserved at large bids to the tournament (University of Connecticut earned the automatic bid), only one remains in the field. And the two Big East teams left, UCONN and Marquette, each played and defeated Big East teams in the Round of 32, meaning that, in theory, had [...]

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Leggo My Bracket

Details of the Second Official Awl NCAA Bracket Tournament Challenge—remember last year?—are coming later today! [UPDATE: It's here!] In preparation, our college-ball expert, JL Weill, offers some guidance on filling out your bracket.

[INTRO FOR COLLEGE HOOPS FANS] Oh joyest of joys, the NCAA brackets are out and that can only mean one thing: the actual tournament games are only days away! I wait the entire year for this, my unofficial national holiday. A few years back, I decided that if I was going to have to work every Memorial Day and Fourth of July (I was working for a major sports league), then by golly [...]

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That's Entertainment!

With the NCAA tournament starting next week, it seems like a good time to talk about why sports even matter. I've argued about this with more than a few people, most often un-athletic friends with unpleasant memories of high-school gym class. And it's true: This basketball tournament won't make any major illnesses disappear or stop people from killing one another (all told, sports probably hurts that effort). But it does grant us a distraction from the killing and suffering in the world—and at its best, contests like this offer us a way to judge what's important to us about competition, fairness, heart, skill and all those other major life [...]

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The Southern Strategy

I spent the spring before I moved to Brooklyn diligently flattening out what was already a pretty mild Southern accent. The way I looked at it, I was moving up Nawth with no particular intention of returning to Kentucky.

What I didn’t know, being naïve and geographically provincial, was that in diluting my accent I was inadvertently losing something of myself. Sure, now I didn’t sound different than my colleagues from Connecticut, Boston, Pennsylvania or even Des Moines. But that turned out to be a shame. Nearly everyone I met those first few years would, upon learning where I was from, immediately ask me, “What happened to your [...]

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West Coast Bias

Early last week, I spent a pleasant evening flipping back and forth between two fantastic college basketball games involving top 10 teams. On ESPN was Kansas State’s stunning obliteration of newly minted No. 1 Kansas. Jacob Pullen, the enigmatic K-State point guard was chucking silly three-pointers from way outside and just burying them. The crowd was freaking out. Great basketball atmosphere, great game (unless you're a Kansas fan, of course).

The other game featured arguably the best team out West, sixth-ranked San Diego State, scrambling to hold off a game UNLV in Las Vegas. Every time UNLV made a run at the Aztecs, San Diego State guard D.J. [...]

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The Year Of The 'Tweener

It’s probably true that in this space over the past few months I’ve spent much more time pontificating about obscure French philosophers, junior high science fairs and my own internal angst than I have about actual college basketball this season. OK, it’s definitely true. While I’m confident that some of it has worked, I’ll let you be the judge. And then, like any patriotic American, I will dismiss your judgment until a ruling from a higher court comes through in my favor. Like anyone who’s ever been on stage, when you have an audience that will indulge your love for smashing watermelons with a sledgehammer, you don’t go off [...]

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It Could Be Worse

Don’t ever tell me it could be worse. There is no single piece of ostensibly helpful advice that I detest as much as “It could be worse.” I can’t say I’ve never offered it myself to some poor friend or family member in the midst of a crisis and I had nothing more useful to say. I get why people fall back on it. Sometimes it seems like the only thing you can say is something like that, something intentionally devoid of deeper meaning. Better that than to enflame or further deepen some afflicted’s funk. But that doesn’t mean it’s good advice, or really advice at all. Of course [...]

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