By Jim Biery
With multiple legendary college basketball programs in close proximity of each other, it should come as no surprise that the Louisville area has been number one on ESPN’s list of markets for college basketball ratings 14 years in a row. That is almost double the rating of the second-place city, Raleigh-Durham.
Selection Sunday is March 12; first round games start the 16. There will be buzzer beaters, unlikely heroes and heartbreaking upsets. There will also be the so-called experts from Dan Dakich to Jay Bilas to Dick Vitale spewing their knowledge of every team and who they think will be going to Phoenix, the site of this years Final Four.
The local programs in these parts are followed religiously by each team’s loyal-until-death-don’t-even-think-about-calling-or-texting-me-during-the-game type of fans. If this sounds farfetched or overblown to you, I invite you to any local sports bar or family living room to watch and listen to the knowledge and passion each fan has for his or her favorite university.
With all of this knowledge and local support surrounding us, I feel like it would be a refreshing point of view to get the thoughts and expectations of each team from those who follow their beloved universities year in and year out, not just at tournament time.
I asked the same four questions of the following fans about their respective favorite team’s chances in March:
Daniel Franklin, a bleed blue Kentucky fan and avid recreational league player; Greg Deuser, a 1982 Louisville graduate who played on UofL’s 1980 chapionship men’s basketball team; Dan Himmelhaver, 1973 Purdue graduate, who has been a member of the John Purdue Club for 34 years; and 1999 Indiana University graduate Ryan Gobert, a life-long Hoosier fan.
What one player could your team ill afford to lose and why?
Daniel Franklin: Bam Adebayo. He is our only down-low threat. Without him we have no rim protector or legitimate scorer.
Greg Deuser: Donavan Mitchell. The team struggles to score at times. It is hard to compete if Mitchell is having a poor game.
Dan Himmelhaver: Caleb Swanigan. All around player for a big man, has ability to always be where the ball is coming of the boards.
Ryan Gobert: Blackmon and OG Anuoby. Blackmon creates his own shots; Anuoby can be a shut-down defender.
If everyone is healthy, how far could your team go in the tournament?
Franklin: Cut down the nets. The tools are there, just hasn’t clicked yet.
Deuser: Final Four. Defense will keep them in most games. Consistent scoring and execution in tight games could be the key.
Himmelhaver: Looking to make it to Elite 8.
Gobert: In early December, I would have said Final Four; now, we will need some luck to make the tourney.
What type of team gives your team the most trouble?
Franklin: Teams that slow tempo and play zone, don’t move the ball quick enough to attack zone.
Deuser: They struggle with teams that mirror them. Teams that defend, like the Cards, and have enough patience to wait for good shots.
Himmelhaver: Quick teams and teams long underneath.
Gobert: Teams that play zone and make in-game adjustments.
Grade your coach on job done up to this point of year.
Franklin: C-. Calipari can get the best talent but struggles getting them to buy into system.
Deuser: B+. Don’t always look like a top team because of style of play. Pitino coaxes a lot of wins out of his teams. He puts their long and athletic players in best position to win games.
Himmelhaver: B. Struggles getting right lineup in against opponents after they substitute players. Poor execution under one minute to go in games.
Gobert: Last year was an A. This year is a D. Talent has regressed and team looks lost at times and not to care at others.
So, there you have it. Honest and direct opinions from people that love and follow their teams year in and year out. As Selection Sunday draws near, you have many decisions to make while you spend countless hours (on company time) filling out your brackets. You can listen to and watch all the breakdowns from an endless supply of ex players and coaches that think they know the game better than others. You can give some serious consideration to your local dedicated fan, or the surprisingly effective strategy of picking the winner by choosing a team based on the color of their uniforms.
No matter how you pick ‘em, I wish you good luck in your office pool. For me, I will stay close to my trusted pundits and listen carefully when they speak about their team’s chances in the Big Dance.