Wow, this is the last mailbag of the season. This is kind of emotional. It’s kind of like my senior day (except I’m coming back next year, don’t worry). We also got a new logo, just in time for the end. But it’s awesome! Anyways, I just want to say, I am in love with Chris Clemons from Campbell. I was really excited for them to make their Cinderella run all the way to the national championship. Oh well. Always next year. Additionally, my hometown Milwaukee Panthers are 11-23 and playing in the Horizon League championship game. I assure you that no one in Milwaukee is aware of that. But that’s the magic of March! Anything can and will happen! For this year’s tournament, “the ceiling is the roof” –Michael Jordan. This is also one of my favorite times of the year for another reason: the coaching carousel. There’s already drama galore and it can only be built upon, but here at College Pride Press, we will keep you updated with who’s going where. For now, here’s the (*sniff*) final haul of the 2016-17 college basketball season: it’s Mail Time!
“What 5 seed or lower in either the ACC or Big 10 tourney can you see winning their conference tourney?” – Trevor Deimel
I’ll do both. Let’s start in the ACC. The obvious choice here is Duke, because they ended up with the 5-seed after a roller coaster of a conference season. They’re the most talented team in the country (yes, still), and are still a Final Four threat. They get the winner of NC State (who beat them) and Clemson, which won’t be an easy game but I’d be shocked if they dropped it. Then they match up with Louisville, which is a matchup I like for the Blue Devils because Louisville’s defense hasn’t been up to par recently (90 points to Virginia Tech, 88 to Wake Forest in recent matchups), and their offense just isn’t good enough to hang with the Blue Devils. That allows for another matchup with UNC on a neutral court this time, a game in which I like the Tar Heels, but wouldn’t be shocked if Duke won that game, and subsequently, the conference tournament. A sleeper team to watch out for in the lower half of the bracket is Wake Forest. I like their road and John Collins is a beast. But if I’m picking one team, I’m copping out and going with Duke.
If there’s one team I would have my eye on in the B1G, it’s Michigan State. I am of the belief that you don’t bet against Izzo in March. Is this his best team? No, not by a long shot. But are they capable of stringing a few games together in the B1G tournament? Definitely. First, they’d get the winner of Penn State-Nebraska, two teams that aren’t that good at basketball, so let’s shoe them into a quarterfinal matchup with Minnesota. I’m not that sold on Richard Pitino’s squad, so let’s say that the Izzo factor gets the job done here. Then they’ll likely meet Purdue in the semis. I really like the Biggie Swanigan-Nick Ward matchup, that will be a lot of fun to watch. I think the key in this game will be Cassius Winston, who has been slinging the rock around the court beautifully as of late. I think he does a good enough job at spreading the ball around a Spartan offense that has developed into a pretty balanced attack, and Miles Bridges puts them in a good decision to win. And I think if they can beat Purdue, they can beat anyone in the lower half of the bracket. Did I just talk myself into picking Sparty to win the B1G title?
“How far can Wichita State make it in the Tourney?” – Sean Bock
Far. Very far. The fact that people would consider leaving this team out of the Big Dance had it lost its conference tournament to Illinois State (another great team that I would like to see in the tourney) is beyond me. They’re a top 10 KenPom team! RPI is useless, KenPom FTW. Pound for pound, I don’t think they’re as talented as a lot of teams that will be in the Dance, but they play with such strong chemistry and balance, and Gregg Marshall really is as good of a coach as any. It starts at the guard position. Landry Shamet is a silky-smooth point guard and probably my favorite player on this team. A question was recently posed to me asking who the better Landry was: Landry Shamet or Landry Clarke (of Friday Night Lights). That’s a very tough question, because both have immensely positive qualities. Shamet, a key piece of a fantastic basketball team, is an ideal point guard. Clarke, a key piece of a small football-centric fictional town, is an ideal best friend, and also game-winning field goal kicker. In a very close race, I would go with Shamet because he is, to me, the biggest key to Wichita State’s tournament success. He’s a pass first kind of guy in a Gregg Marshall system that has so many weapons, so obviously his ability to spread the ball is important in terms of other guys’ production, but he also has a reliable shooting stroke (11.1 ppg, 45% from 3). Hold on. I lost my train of thought thinking about Landry Shamet. Oh, right, how far can they go. Let’s use our CPP bracketologist Jonathan Warriner’s most recent bracketology for this question. The Shockers are currently a projected 7-seed in the South regional, matching up with Syracuse (who, by the way, plays a zone). I like the Shockers because Marshall is smart enough to crack that zone, and between Shamet, Conner Frankamp, and some three point specialists off the bench, the can break the zone and move someone into the high post like Markis McDuffie to help facilitate the offense. They would most likely meet Baylor in the next round, a team that I’m not as high on as most. Because of that, I think they’re ripe for an upset and I think Wichita State has more than enough firepower and defense to upend them. Let’s bank on the Sweet 16 for the Shockers.
“Who is your Cinderella prediction?” – Sean Bock
Alright Sean, I see you pulling double duty, trying to get your questions in for the last Mail Time of the year. This is a pretty tough question, for one because there are a lot of potential Cinderellas, but two because we don’t know which ones are in yet. But there’s one name that I can’t help but focus on: The UNC-Wilmington Seahawks. They’re 33 in RPI, which the selection committee loves, and 63 in RPI, which I love. If you balance out the two, you can certainly make the argument for an at-large bid. They are the class of the CAA, a conference with a surprising number of quality teams. They’ve got weapons at every position, too. Denzel Ingram is an awesome point guard and deserves a national stage (14.6 ppg, 5.5 apg), Davontae Cacok is a force down low (12.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg) and a defensive stalwart, and CJ Bryce is one of the best pure scorers in the conference, and is a surprisingly good rebounder for his size (17.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Keavin Keatts is a great coach and will almost certainly be in a new location in a power conference next season. They nearly beat Duke last year, and if anything, improved this year. I think they’re a good choice to rip off a couple of surprising wins and then some. They also have the best/ugliest uniforms in college hoops. Which is always, always, a factor in March. Don’t sleep on ‘em.
“Does Tom Crean get fired?” – Brad Kreppel
“Follow Up: Is Brad ok mentally if he has to watch another year of IU being horrible?” – Also Brad Kreppel
Indiana should not fire Tom Crean! I understand the Hoosier fan base has high expectations, especially given their rich history. But in this century, the only genuine success they’ve seen is with Crean at the helm. If you fire him, what better coach is out there you replace him with? No, Brad Stevens is not going to Bloomington. I also don’t think you can fire Crean unless you know for certain that Archie Miller will take that job. And I’m not even sure if Miller is a better option. Crean is a good coach. Growing up a Marquette fan, he brought me the only Final Four I’ve been able to experience. His tenure in B-town has been up and down, sure, but is there an available coach out there that would consistently out-perform Crean? I also think this year would have been different if he had a full roster for the year. Collin Hartman didn’t play a game (glue guy!), OG Anunoby played about half a season, and James Blackmon Jr. missed time as well. Those are three lynchpins of Crean’s system. Personally, I don’t see him lasting, but I have to think that this isn’t the season to look at in the decision to fire him.
That being said, Brad Kreppel will not be mentally ok if he has to watch another year of IU being horrible. Hoosiers, for Brad’s sake, don’t suck.
“Jacksonville State has a basketball team?” – Brett Siegel
Last time I checked, Jacksonville isn’t a state. So, no.
Fun Fact of the Week: In all seriousness, Jacksonville State was picked to finish last in the Ohio Valley conference. Instead, they punched their ticket to the school’s first ever NCAA Tournament. In other mid-major news, Middle Tennessee cracked the (coaches) top-25 poll for the first time in school history. These guys knocked off Michigan State last year, and are a dangerous team.
Photos via USA-Today Sports, Getty Images, AP Photo, Sports Illustrated, and UNCW Athletics