John Clay: Questions to ponder as college basketball reaches post-season

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 11, 2014 

In honor of the sixth man, six burning college basketball questions as we — finally — slide into post-season play:

1. How much will the (temporary?) loss of Joel Embiid hurt Kansas?

It could be downright catastrophic for the Jayhawks, who despite a roller-coaster ride of a season have the talent to cut down the nets deep in the heart of Texas.

Were I an NBA general manager with the No. 1 pick in the draft, Embiid is the name I'd write on the index card before handing it to new commissioner Adam Silver.

Embiid is 7-foot, athletic and, given his limited experience, shows surprisingly good basketball instincts.

Last Saturday, without Embiid to protect the rim, Kansas gave up a jaw-dropping 92 points in a loss to West Virginia. Now doctors say the native of Cameroon has a stress fracture in his back and may not return until the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. By then, it could be too late.

2. Should Wichita State be a No. 1 seed?

Dumb question.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Wichita State played a so-so schedule and won a non-BCS league. Big deal.

The Shockers are the first unbeaten team to enter the NCAA Tournament since, much to the NCAA's chagrin, Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV way back in 1991. The Shockers were not only in last year's Final Four, they were tied with Louisville 60-60 with 3:25 to play in the national semifinal before the Cards won the whole thing.

Some are comparing Wichita State to Gonzaga, the No. 1-ranked team last year. A better comparison is Butler, which knew how to follow the yellow brick road to tournament success.

3. Would Florida be better off losing in the SEC Tournament?

History says yes. Kentucky's history says yes, that is.

Rick Pitino coached the 1995-96 Cats to an undefeated conference season. Kentucky lost to Mississippi State in the conference tournament finals, then won the NCAA title. John Calipari coached the 2011-12 Cats to an undefeated conference season. Kentucky lost to Vanderbilt in the conference tournament finals, then won the whole thing.

Florida has won 23 straight basketball games. If the Gators take home the trophy in Atlanta they will have won 26 straight. That's a lot of basketball games, and a lot of pressure.

4. Which conference tournament is the most competitive?

People are talking about the Big 12 and the ACC, but what about the AAC, as in the American Athletic Conference?

Louisville (5), Cincinnati (13), Memphis (19) and SMU (25) are all ranked. Louisville split with Cincinnati, lost twice to Memphis and swept SMU. Cincinnati and Memphis both split with SMU. Cincinnati swept Memphis.

Plus, it's a 10-team league with a 10-team tournament.

What I wouldn't give for the SEC to be a 10-team league with an 18-game round-robin schedule and a 10-team tournament again.

5. Which team would I not want to face in the SEC Tournament this week?

Captain Obvious says Florida.

I say Tennessee, now that Cuonzo Martin has silenced the idiots — as Vandy coach Kevin Stallings called Martin's critics — and pushed the Vols into overdrive.

This month: Tennessee beat Vanderbilt 76-38. Tennessee beat Auburn 82-54. Tennessee beat Missouri 72-45. Tennessee is the opposite of Kentucky right now — playing its best basketball of the season.

6. What is the biggest myth of this college basketball season?

That it was the year of the freshman.

Creighton's Doug McDermott is the likely national player of the year. Florida's Scottie Wilbekin was the SEC player of the year. Iowa State's Melvin Ejim was the player of the year in the Big 12.

Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick, Connecticut's Shabazz Napier and Louisville's Russ Smith are the leading candidates for the AAC player of the year, to be announced Wednesday.

What do all those MVPs have in common?

They are all seniors.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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