On Saturday, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Selection Committee did … what exactly?
Chair Mark Hollis, the athletics director at Michigan State, revealed the top 16 seeds. This made for a bit of “news” for a TV show leading into CBS’s coverage of the Kentucky-Alabama game.
UK was 12th overall, a No. 3 seed, in the early rankings while Louisville was a No. 2 seed at seventh overall.
But, of course, these 16 teams could change position or drop out of the grouping before Selection Sunday (March 12).
So what was the purpose of this?
Several people with experience in the process agreed with ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, who called the announcement a promotional “stunt.” The top 16 teams were more or less known before the season began.
“I don’t think it’s anything other than an effort to stimulate interest,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.
When asked if the announcement was a public relations exercise, Delany said, “I think it’s 90 percent that. Maybe 100 percent.”
Former Virginia coach Terry Holland, who once served on the Selection Committee, saw Saturday’s show as an attempt to match the buzz surrounding the College Football Playoff.
“I do believe it was designed as a promotion,” Holland said. “Maybe they got a little bit of a concern about the fact that basketball has not kept up with football in terms of visibility. I think it had something to do with competition between football and basketball for media attention.”
Bill Hancock, who has had a role in the NCAA’s football and basketball playoffs, saw nothing wrong with trying to keep up with football. The announcement provided an insight into committee thinking, however preliminary.
“And I do think it’ll be a boost for the regular season,” Hancock said. “It will lead people to follow the games nationally more. People will be cheering for or against whoever it is above or below their team.”
Hancock, a former NCAA liaison to the Selection Committee and now executive director of the College Football Playoff, said, “I don’t see any downside to it at all.”
A few weeks ago, UK Coach John Calipari and Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart applauded the upcoming announcement as a needed move toward greater transparency in the process. It was suggested that selection, seeding and bracketing had previously been done in a “smoke-filled room,” classic terminology for something devious and dishonest.
Delany scoffed at the notion of a smoke-filled room. “Some people sometimes find conspiracies where there are none,” he said.
Besides, naming the top 16 teams is hardly a revelation. “Now, if they go to the last 16, that would, in fact, be interesting,” Delany said. “But I think those differences are so close and the last 10 games so impactful, they couldn’t do that. And maybe they shouldn’t do that.”
Neither Delany, Hancock nor Holland recalled the Selection Committee deliberating or making decisions in a smoke-filled room.
“If you wanted to smoke,” Holland said, “you had to leave the room.”
OK to smile?
Last week provided further proof that the author of Ecclesiastes 1:9 was correct: there is nothing new under the sun.
Malik Monk was not the first Kentucky player who got caught smiling on the bench during what some considered an inappropriate time.
In UK’s 2007-08 season, a television camera showed walk-on Dusty Mills smiling on the bench while teammate Ramel Bradley lay crumpled on the court as a result of a flagrant foul.
In a message to Mills last week, a former boss linked this smile with Monk’s. “I assume they’re going to have to kick Malik off the team since they set the precedent for kicking people off for laughing on the bench,” Mills recalled the message reading.
Of course, UK did not dismiss its leading scorer from the team. Mills, a walk-on, was not so lucky. Then-UK coach Billy Gillispie dismissed him from the team.
Mills, who lives in Indianapolis and works in sales, said he heard from “a lot of people” when the news broke about Monk’s smile at Florida.
Of those who objected to Monk smiling on the bench near the end of a 22-point loss, Mills said, “Another example of how a majority of fans are naive. You’re talking about 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids. The fans take things too seriously, in my opinion.”
Monk said he smiled in reaction to Florida students singing him “Happy Birthday.” He turned 19 that day.
In Mills’ eyes, Monk’s smile betrayed no lack of interest in Kentucky winning games.
“Malik Monk, I can assure you, would want nothing more than winning a national championship before he goes to the NBA,” Mills said. “… What else would Malik Monk want more than to be on the national stage in early April playing in the Final Four?”
Mills cited another reason that a player would be interested in winning.
“I can assure you they’re focused on taking care of business and helping their teammates because they become your best friends for life,” Mills said. “You don’t want to let them down, either. That’s basically the code.”
Mills’ dismissal from the Kentucky team was part of a two-month saga. In December of the 2007-08 season, UK players got into a brief standoff with Houston players. During a film session afterward, Gillispie chastised the bench players for not charging onto the court to aid their teammates, Mills said.
Fast forward to a February game at Georgia. The Bulldogs’ beefy center, Dave Bliss, delivered a hard foul that knocked the driving Bradley to the court. Mark Krebs bolted off the bench. Mills recalled grabbing Krebs, and pulling him back.
“When we got back to the bench, Morakinyo Williams, my best friend on the team, made a comment,” Mills said. “To this day, we can’t remember what he said. But we both kind of have that dry sense of humor. He said something that made both of us laugh. It’s not like we were dying laughing. But kind of a smirk, more like a quick chuckle.
“It just so happened that the second we were laughing, CBS was taking a camera across our bench.”
As UK Coach John Calipari reminded Monk that the TV camera never blinks, so, too did then-UK assistant Glynn Cyprien tell Mills the same thing.
Ten days after the incident at Georgia, Kentucky lost 93-52 at Vanderbilt. That’s when Gillispie chose to dismiss Mills from the team.
Mills said he had no regrets.
“I just wish fans would let these kids be kids, and let them have happy moments,” Mills said. “I just wish people weren’t so stubborn and close-minded.”
Father and son made a high percentage of free throws.
Sportswriter Tim Casey cited a study by Larry Silverberg, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State. Silverberg said that shooting a conventional overhead shot is more complicated and has more moving parts (coordinated knees, elbows, wrists, etc).
“The beauty of the underhanded shot is that the underhand shot is a smooth motion,” Silverberg said. “And it’s easier to become consistent with it if you want to change your habits.”
Among SEC teams, Florida ranked 12th in free-throw accuracy last season (64.7 percent). Barry, a transfer, offered to teach his new teammates the underhanded style.
“He tried to no avail,” Florida Coach Mike White said at SEC Media Day in October.
But the Gators have improved as free-throw shooters. The 71.8 percent accuracy heading into this weekend ranked fifth best among SEC teams.
To Winston Bennett. He turned 52 on Thursday. … To John Calipari. He turned 58 on Friday. … To Leroy Byrd. He turned 54 on Saturday. … To Andy Dumstorf. The UK student fired from a sports information job because he was a Louisville fan turned 53 on Saturday. … To Josh Harrellson. He turns 28 on Sunday (today). … To Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. He turns 70 on Monday. … To Ray Edelman. He turns 65 on Tuesday. … To Tod Lanter. He turns 26 on Wednesday.