Floor Burns: Funny Valentines


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↵This one anomalous year of college basketball certainly seems like at least a temporary changing of the guard. ↵

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↵Consider that North Carolina, Connecticut, Florida, UCLA and Memphis seem unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament. None of those schools is in the top 50 of ESPN's InsideRPI ($), and only Florida makes Joe Lunardi's latest field, which was updated before the Gators were "edged" by Xavier yesterday. ↵

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↵Those five schools combined for 13 Final Four appearances in the last decade, and took home five of the 10 championships awarded. They produced dozens of pros, and were beasts within their conferences. ↵

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↵And this year, they may all compete for the NIT. How does this happen? ↵

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↵Well, this year, Connecticut has no halfcourt offense, UCLA has next to no offense, period, North Carolina is scuffling with freshmen, Florida is undersized and lacks athleticism, and Memphis isn't as five-star-studded as it once was. That's the simple explanation. ↵

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↵The macroscopic explanation has a lot more to do with college basketball's new order of one-season dynasties. Fantastic players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Blake Griffin, and Greg Oden help teams become microwaved powerhouses, but getting more than one season from them is a rare blessing, and hitting on the right ones is a crapshoot. Rose went to a Final Four; O.J. Mayo did not. ↵

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↵It's theoretically a smart strategy to recruit players who will stick around for more than a year, but do coaches get the best talent if they're looking for more than a one-year stint from recruits? ↵

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↵So the best bet is to split the difference. ↵

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↵Florida didn't, and because of that, their back-to-back titles seem exceptionally special and unique. It took a talented crew of players in front of the Joakim Noah/Al Horford/Corey Brewer/Taurean Green contingent to mold them into a team and keep them together for two years. If any of those players breaks out as a freshman, do the Gators win either title? The fall the Gators have taken since makes it look even more like Billy Donovan bottled lightning with that class. ↵

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↵Similarly, John Calipari didn't. He brought in great players who got close to championships for Memphis, but free throws and other misfires in NCAA Tournaments denied his Tigers titles. And though Josh Pastner has a bright future at the school, Memphis is left with the scorched earth of lottery picks spending just one season in school, which has proved fairly infertile this year. ↵

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↵But neither the Florida model, getting lucky with a full recruiting class blossoming after riding the pine for a year, nor the Calipari model, recruiting NBA lottery picks and living and dying with freshmen, seems sustainable. It's better to hope for an Emeka Okafor or a Tyler Hansbrough to anchor a team for years, build an assortment of talent around that star, and catch the right breaks. ↵

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↵This model doesn't have a name or an archetypal team -- the NCAA champions not named Florida in the last six years are good bets, though -- and it fails more often than it works, leaving historically good teams on the outside looking in on this Valentine's day, or hoping for conference tournament titles and the corresponding automatic bids. ↵

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↵But, in a sport defined by threes falling at the right moment or free throws rimming out down the stretch, isn't an unreliable means of team-building still being the best method available just par for the course? ↵

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↵Assigned Readings. Ryan Fagan's account of a day on Tobacco Road ... Mike DeCourcy's report on Duke finding itself on defense ... John Perrotto's look inside the selection committee ... Jason King's column on Kentucky's maturation ... and Jeff Eisenberg's speculation on the Wildcats' weakness. ↵

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↵The Northwestern Note. I'm not sure who's checking for these Wildcats anymore: their loss to Iowa leaves them on life support. But if they beat Wisconsin in Madison next Sunday, expect more positive words in this space. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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