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Friday, December 17, 2010

Mark Cuban's Plan to End the BCS - College Basketball Power Rankings - Ohio vs Troy Preview

Mark Cuban's interest could be significant step in playoff push
good article from si.com
A lot of us want a college football playoff. A lot of us know a playoff would be infinitely superior to the BCS. A lot of us -- including university presidents and athletic directors -- know a playoff would make a lot more money for schools than the BCS does.
But we aren't worth $2.3 billion. We don't have venture capitalists sprinting to throw money at us every time we have an idea.
Mark Cuban does.
Recently, the Dallas Mavericks' owner decided that instead of spending his energy and considerable financial resources to buy a Major League Baseball franchise, he could profit more -- financially and historically -- from creating a playoff system in major college football.
"It just dawned on me that for the amount of money that I would consider spending on a baseball franchise, you could take that money and turn the BCS upside down and start a playoff system," Cuban said Thursday on the Dan Patrick Show.
Cuban's interest might be the playoff movement's most significant step forward yet. Dan Wetzel, Jeff Passan and Josh Peter, the authors of Death to the BCS, deserve all the credit for inspiring the new proponent of a fair, reasonable and profitable method of deciding major college football's champion. Cuban's idea is a 12- or 16-team tournament. (His twist is that those who lose later in the tournament would get to play in the best bowls.) He would try to raise about $500 million as a financial inducement to convince schools a playoff is a better option. He did not mention the significantly higher television rights fees a playoff would bring. The BCS receives $125 million a year in rights fees from ESPN. A playoff would command three to four times that number. "It's an obviously profitable opportunity for colleges -- which is something all schools need in this economic period we're in," Cuban said.
Does this mean we can start planning playoff-watching parties for 2014? Certainly not. People have tried to throw money at this issue before and failed.
But Cuban is different.
International Sports and Leisure, a Swiss company, tried in 1999 to convince university presidents to start a playoff by offering $3 billion over eight years and got soundly rebuffed. That probably was a wise move. The once-powerful sports marketing company had serious cash-flow problems, and it went belly-up within a few years. (Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott probably remembers this all too well; Scott was second-in-command of the ATP when ISL failed to pay for a deal it had signed with the men's tennis governing body.)
Cuban is more prudent. He made his fortune in the '90s with Broadcast.com, which advanced the then-novel idea of listening to sports broadcasts over the Internet. Yahoo! bought the company for $5.04 billion in stock. Cuban didn't just sit on the stock, though. He survived the dotcom bust with a huge fortune intact by diversifying and seeking out new markets. Shortly after the turn of the century, Cuban realized before most that someone needed to start producing content for high-definition televisions -- which at the time were a pipe dream for the average consumer.
The guy clearly has a knack for identifying markets in need of improvement. Major college football's postseason certainly qualifies.
"As a college football fan, I hate the BCS simply because of all the inefficiencies," Cuban said. "My orientation always is if there is something everybody hates, and there are all kinds of inefficiencies and a lack of transparency, then somewhere in there is a business opportunity."
What is unclear is whether Cuban understands that he'll be fighting against people who are well aware that they are short-changing schools with the current system. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, the man Cuban ultimately would have to topple, freely admits a playoff is the far more profitable alternative.
If Cuban thought MLB was a fuddy-duddy, old-boy network resistant to new and better ideas, wait until he meets some of the conference commissioners. Wait until he meets the bowl directors who will fight tooth and nail to keep their bloated salaries right where they are.
Source: SIOn Thursday's Dan Patrick Show, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban discusses his desire to help bring about a college football playoff. Of course, Cuban may find he already has some allies. We know SEC commissioner Mike Slive and ACC commissioner John Swofford support the idea of a four-team bracketed tournament. (They call it a plus-one so simpletons won't realize it's actually a playoff.) Scott, who took over the Pac-10 in 2009, already has tried to blow up the current conference configuration and is quite fond of pointing out how undervalued college football still is. He's in a delicate spot because he's tied at the hip to the Rose Bowl, but he seems to have enough maverick in him to listen to new ideas. In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Thursday, Scott toed the party line.
"The fact is that college football has never been more popular in its current format, and it's a mistake to assume the impediment to a playoff is money," Scott wrote. "We could get a lot more money tomorrow from lots of folks by moving to an expansive playoff; this is about a broader set of priorities benefiting schools and student-athletes."
Ultimately, Cuban would have to convince university presidents. To do that, he said, don't go to the presidents. Go to major donors at the most powerful schools and convince them to cut off their donations unless the president gets behind a playoff. "That's the big missing piece that other folks who have considered this haven't done," Cuban said. "Most of them have gone to the presidents and have gone to the athletic directors and kind of taken the sports path. In reality, you go to the stakeholders."
Would that work? Maybe. Maybe not. Boosters love their bowl trips, too. But they love championships more. Cuban might start by explaining to the big-money boosters at Big Ten schools that the BCS actually is keeping their football teams from playing for the national title. Why? Because Ohio State lost two consecutive BCS title games, and now poll voters are unfairly painting the entire conference with a broad brush. A one-loss SEC team can play for the title, but a one-loss Big Ten team is a lock for the Rose Bowl.
That's just one example of an angle Cuban and his investors could attack. They might also want to target Connecticut legislators, who may have to explain to the state's taxpayers how the University of Connecticut could get stuck with a $2.5 million bill for unsold Fiesta Bowl tickets. According to UConn, 26 percent of the athletics budget for fiscal year 2010 comes from the publically-funded university. So guess who will pay any unexpected costs? Even better, Cuban could offer to buy all of Connecticut's unsold Fiesta Bowl tickets on the condition that university president Philip E. Austin support and vote for a playoff system in the future. That's putting your money where your mouth is.
Cuban will probably meet with a lot more resistance than he realizes, but who knows? Cuban's name, bank account and business acumen may open some doors that were previously closed. At any rate, the fight for a playoff beats buying the Dodgers and getting bashed hilariously by T.J. Simers on a regular basis. "This sounds a lot more interesting and a lot more fun," Cuban said. "And [it's] a lot better business."
Of course, Cuban could always get bored or frustrated and move on to another opportunity. That's certainly the most likely possibility. But any time a billionaire gets behind a good idea, it's progress.

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1 Last Week: 1 Duke Blue Devils (10-0)
Until there's a definitive answer on the Kyrie Irving situation -- his foot is in a cast awaiting another evaluation -- it remains the biggest story in college hoops. Last week in the Rankings, I illustrated the differences in assist distribution between Irving and Nolan Smith, who's had to take over the point full time in Irving's absence. This week, in search of more insight about how the loss of Irving might affect the Blue Devils, I had a conversation with an opposing assistant coach who had scouted them thoroughly.
"One thing that really hit me," the coach said, "was how fast and powerful Irving was from end line to end line. To have any chance of stopping him from getting to the basket, your defense would get drawn into the paint. And I think that when your defense is drawn in like that, it just magnifies all of Duke's strengths, with all those guys [Smith, Kyle Singler, Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly] who have the ability to make shots from anywhere on the floor. ... And Irving doesn't just do this in transition; he puts so much pressure on your defenders in pick-and-roll sets, too. There's just no one who plays off the [screens] with the explosion and strength that he does."
The coach isn't from Michigan State, but I went to the video of that game to look for examples of the defensive "contraction" that Irving was creating. This pick-and-roll set with Mason Plumlee was particularly good, and it's broken down into four stages in the image below.

Next Three: 12/20 vs. Elon, 12/29 at UNC-Greensboro, 1/2 vs. Miami

2 Last Week: 2 Kansas Jayhawks (9-0)
At the time of these Rankings, the eBay auction for Skype-ing With Bill Self on Christmas Eve was only up to $450. That's not even going to come close to covering the cost of repaying Josh Selby's extra benefits, people! (Actually, it's for a good cause: Self's Assists Foundation, which provides grants to Lawrence-area youth organizations, and earned the coach a nomination for a United Nations award.)
The odds are the winning KU fan will want to have some Selby-related discussion, given that he is the Jayhawks' early Christmas present, set to make his debut on Dec. 18 against USC. I covered that topic on Tuesday, pointing out that Kansas' offense without Selby has been nearly as good as Duke's with Irving, so there's a risk Selby could throw things out of whack. Don't be stunned if Selby isn't even the highest-scoring newcomer in that Dec. 18 game. Jio Fontan, who was formerly a star scoring guard at Fordham, is making his debut for USC that day as well, and Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill is hyping the kid as much as is humanly possible.
"He's our best player," O'Neill said of Fontan. "He's our best leader. He's our best scorer. He's our best defender. He's our best passer. He's our best guard. He's our best player."

Next Three: 12/18 vs. USC, 12/22 at Cal, 12/29 vs. Texas-Arlington

3 Last Week: 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0)
In the same spirit of the Derrick Williams-vs.-Kansas shot/drive chart from a few weeks ago (which I can confirm Mr. Williams has seen!), I was interested in examining how Jared Sullinger amassed his Buckeyes freshman-record 40 points against IUPUI on Dec. 9. Sullinger generated points or trips to the foul line in five different ways, each represented by a different color on the chart: red for drop-step moves (DS); green for offensive-board putbacks of teammates' shots (OR); blue for spins over his right shoulder (RS); purple for standard layups (LU); and gold for dunks (DK).

Next Three: 12/18 vs. South Carolina, 12/21 vs. UNC-Asheville, 12/23 vs. Oakland

4 Last Week: 6 Connecticut Huskies (8-0)
In a conversation with an opposing assistant who scouted UConn this season, this is what was said about Kemba Walker, who's second in the nation in scoring at 28.1 points per game: "Right now he's like a video game player. If you created your own guy in an Xbox game and made him almost unstoppable, that's what I think of Kemba, now that he has the perimeter game he didn't have as a freshman and sophomore. He wasn't a bad shooter then, but now, if you're guarding him and you go under a ball screen or a dribble handoff, he can knock down an NBA-range three on you. That's on top of his crossover and change-of-speed game off the dribble; he just has a burst that you can't teach. ... He's also picking his spots well, deciding when he needs to turn it on and score, and when he needs to get his teammates involved. ... I think defensively, your best option is blitz ball-screens and try to get the ball out of his hands. And other than that, just stay solid and try not to give him alleys for dribble penetration. As good as the jumper has been, I'd rather give that up than I would let him get into the lane."

Next Three: 12/20 vs. Coppin State, 12/22 vs. Harvard, 12/27 at Pitt

5 Last Week: 7 Tennessee Volunteers (7-1)
What does one do with the Vols? Since being ranked No. 7, they recorded the most impressive win by any team in the 2010-11 season (routing Pitt in Pittsburgh) ... and then paid somewhere between $40,000-50,000 in guarantee money for the pleasure of being upset by Oakland in Knoxville three days later. My solution: Move them up slightly, to No. 5, but devote their blurb space to Oakland's Larry Wright for his act of heroism.
With 6:52 left in a game the Grizz were trailing 76-70, Wright was leveled/clobbered by what The Dagger called the "screen of the year", a blind, midcourt pick set by Tennessee's Brian Williams. He's listed at 272 pounds in his official Vols bio, and may be heavier than that; Wright is listed at 165 pounds in his Oakland bio. It was a clean screen but an unfair collision.
Wright scraped himself off the deck and, in the game's final minute, had the composure to hit a dagger three with 38 seconds left to put the Grizz up five ... and then ice the victory with a couple of free throws 14 seconds later. Perhaps Williams knocked all the fear out of the kid.

Next Three: 12/17 at Charlotte, 12/21 vs. USC, 12/23 vs. Belmont

6 Last Week: 8 San Diego State Aztecs (11-0)
The San Diego Union-Tribune brings us the secret behind Malcolm Thomas' recent free-throw shooting surge, as the notorious brick-layer has made 16 of his past 21 from the stripe: He recites the names of his daughter, mother and sister ("Mikeala ... Lori ... Sheala") before each attempt. "Before, when I was shooting free throws, I was thinking, 'Man, if I miss ..." Thomas told the paper. "Thinking of them puts me at ease."
I watched tape of the Aztecs' win over San Diego, in which Thomas was 8-of-9, and it seems that his recitation isn't visible at a Karl Malone level; it's more of a subtle thing. Either way, it's helped convert a player who's been a 50s percent shooter from the stripe for his career into something more respectable. This is a trick Kansas State -- the third-worst free-throw shooting team in America -- might be interested in trying ...

Next Three: 12/18 vs. UC-Santa Barbara, 12/21 vs. San Francisco, 12/22 vs. IUPUI

7 Last Week: 5 Georgetown Hoyas (9-1)
Two quality thoughts from a conversation with an opposing assistant who scouted the Hoyas this season:
• "I honestly think, because their guards [Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark] are so talented and skilled, that the faster they play, the better off they are. Because the more chances you give those three guys to make decisions on the fly and create shots, the better off they're going to be."
(I alluded to this Hoya-speed thing a few weeks ago, noting that they're 7-1 in their past eight 74-plus-possession games.)
• "They're really well-coached, and their offense has changed a lot based on the personnel. Whereas they used to have a lot of post plays to get [Greg] Monroe in situations where he could shoot or make a play that led to a shot, now they're doing a lot more side pick-and-rolls, which do a good job of putting Wright, Freeman and Clark in position to make plays."
I screen-grabbed an example of this from the first half of Georgetown's win over Appalachian State on Sunday.

Next Three: 12/18 vs. Loyola (Md.), 12/23 at Memphis, 12/29 at Notre Dame

8 Last Week: 3 Pittsburgh Panthers (10-1)
I'm a fan of simple, direct slogans. There's no better one in college hoops right now than at Northwestern, where the official student shirt says "MAKE SHOTS." This is precisely what the Wildcats do; they rank No. 2 in the nation in effective field-goal percentage, at 60.6 percent. Their junior star, John Shurna, shoots an amazing 64.5 percent from long range. He makes shots. What does this have to do with Pittsburgh? Well, seeing that Northwestern shirt made me think of a potential Panthers derivation ... based on the fact that they still rank No. 1 in the country in offensive rebounding:

Next Three: 12/18 vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore, 12/22 vs. American, 12/27 vs. UConn

9 Last Week: 10 Syracuse Orange (10-0)
New information in the Fab Melo Mystery: The Brazilian 7-footer told the Syracuse Post-Standard that he doesn't have an Achilles injury, as was previously reported; he actually has a tear in his right calf muscle. Melo has not practiced all week and may not be available for Saturday's game against Iona, but the Orange are used to him being near-absent by now. He's averaging just 2.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 12.7 minutes despite having been hyped for Big East Freshman of the Year honors in the preseason. The team's intention is to rest Melo until he's healthy, at which point it'll be nice to see what he can actually do. In the meantime, they'll keep leaning on senior Rick Jackson, who's having a phenomenal year, posting offensive/defensive rebounding splits of 14.4%/23.7% and an offensive rating of 117.8.

Next Three: 12/18 vs. Iona, 12/20 vs. Morgan State, 12/22 vs. Drexel

10 Last Week: 12 Brigham Young Cougars (10-0)
Thoughts on Cougars guard Jimmer Fredette, from an opposing assistant coach who's scouted BYU: "He's as good a player as there is in college basketball, but he doesn't try on defense other than gambling for the occasional steal. ... He can score in so many different ways -- go 1-on-1 with you and get in the lane or create space for his own shot; or come off of single- and double-screens on the side. He has great range. I think you can bother [his offensive game] with speed, though. You could see Jacob Pullen get [Fredette] out of his game during the NCAA tournament by picking him up full-court, but few teams have a guy who can do what Pullen did. You really need an elite-level defender to stop him."

Next Three: 12/18 vs. UCLA (in Anaheim), 12/21 at Weber State, 12/23 vs. UTEP

Ohio vs Troy Preview
Ohio's Frank Solich is no stranger to bowl games, having won two as a coach and playing for a national championship in his time with Nebraska.
Now, Solich will try again to deliver the first postseason victory in Bobcats history in his third attempt.
Ohio makes its fifth postseason appearance when it takes on Sun Belt Conference champion Troy in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday night.
Solich, who led the Cornhuskers to a 58-19 record from 1998-2003 before arriving at Ohio in 2005, guided the Bobcats to their first bowl appearance in 38 years in 2006. The Bobcats, though, lost 28-7 to Southern Miss in the GMAC Bowl.
Solich had his team back in the postseason last year, but the Bobcats fell to 0-4 in bowl games with a 21-17 loss to Marshall in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26Now they'll look to earn the elusive first postseason victory in the Big Easy.
"The opportunity to play a bowl game there makes the experience even more memorable," safety Donovan Fletcher told the school's official website. "Troy is an exceptional team and competing against them will be a challenge that I know our team is looking forward to."
Ohio (8-4) finished second in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference and earned a second straight bowl berth for the first time.
"Coach Solich is a high-caliber man," Troy coach Larry Blakeney said. "You never heard a peep out of him when he was fired from his alma mater when he went (9-3 in 2003). He just went on and got himself another job and went to work."
The Bobcats had their seven-game winning streak snapped in a season-ending 28-6 loss to Kent State on Nov. 26. Senior Boo Jackson threw his school-record 35th career touchdown pass for Ohio, breaking a mark that had stood for 41 years.
Senior wide receiver Terrence McCrae also set a school record with his 19th career TD catch.
Troy (7-5) hopes to slow down that duo, and it could help that Blakeney has seen Solich's offensive schemes before. Solich went 3-0 against the Trojans from 2001-03.
"There's no question that we'll have to defend across the board," Blakeney said.
Troy defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi led the MAC with 17 1/2 tackles for loss.
Troy won at least a share of its conference championship for the fifth straight season, joining BYU, Southern California, Ohio State, Alabama and Florida State as the only programs to accomplish the feat.
The Trojans are making their third straight bowl appearance and fifth in seven seasons. They lost 44-41 in double overtime to then-No. 25 Central Michigan in the GMAC Bowl last season.
Troy, first in the Sun Belt with 32.9 points per game, will be facing an Ohio defense that is yielding 21.8. The Trojans also topped the conference with 441.1 yards per contest, but the Bobcats are giving up 332.7.
Troy's Corey Robinson threw for a conference-leading 3,320 yards with 24 touchdowns, but also was intercepted 15 times.
"Hopefully we can give them some problems too from our offense to their defense and in the kicking game," Blakeney said. "We've got a little time, but not a whole lot, to prepare."
Troy is 1-1 in the New Orleans Bowl, beating Rice 41-17 in 2006 and falling 30-27 in overtime to Southern Mississippi in 2008. The Trojans are 1-4 in bowl games.

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