Off the Page with Extol takes a timeout to talk to our March Sports cover referee, Eric Ballenger. During the NCAA Basketball tournament, the refs took a beating. How does our favorite ref see the call?
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.
By Jeff Nunn, CardinalSportsZone.com senior contributor
So, you threw down a few bucks and entered your NCAA bracket ofﬁce pool. You quickly ﬁlled out your bracket and turned it in feeling conﬁdent. On the Monday morning after the ﬁrst weekend of games, you are in your break room at work and you hear people talking about how many picks they got correct and what place they are in. You are sitting there thinking how your bracket looks like a toddler colored on it with a red sharpie. Does this sound familiar to you? If so, then let me stimulate your mind with a few tips and trends that might help you avoid having your bracket busted.
Head over Heart
When picking games the hardest thing to do is to be realistic about how good your favorite team is. You can’t let your heart make picks for you. You have watched them all year, and deep down you know how good they are, but don’t let your desire for them to be successful cloud your judgement. Use your head.
12 vs. 5
A 12 seed winning is a safe gamble. In 28 of the past 32 NCAA tournaments, at least one 12 seed has beaten a 5 seed. Multiple 12 seeds winning is also fairly common, but don’t get carried away because 12 seeds don’t advance very far after making their upset of the 5 seed. In fact, only one 12 seed has advanced to the Elite Eight and only 26 percent of the 12 seeds that win their first game have gone on to win their second game since 1985. Take your 12 seed win and get out.
For those of you who like to pick a game based on your favorite color or because your cousin graduated from there, here is your spot. The eight vs. nine game is basically a 50-50 game. If you want any hints on who to pick, I suggest you check the Las Vegas betting lines and see who they favor. Those guys are pretty good.
Fork In The Road
When you get to that game that you just can’t decide who to pick, break out your smart phone or laptop and look up strength of schedule. Take the school with the harder schedule. If that doesn’t help, then pick the school with the more experienced coach.
Money with the 1’s
A No. 1 seed has NEVER lost a first round game. Don’t try to be a hero and pick the first big upset. It’s not happening. Nobody likes picking the favorites, but be very careful when predicting an upset of a No. 1 seed. Since the tournament expanded in 1985, there have been 64 championship game participants. Of those 64, 30 have been a No. 1 seed and 19 have been crowned national champions. Don’t pick all No. 1 seeds in your Final Four but you should have at least one. At least one No. 1 seed has made it to the Final Four every year except 1980, 2006 and 2011.
Parity in college basketball is becoming more apparent. The 11 seed versus the 6 seed is proof. In the past 12 tournaments, an 11 has beaten a 6, including twice in 2014 and three times in 2016.
Why so Blue?
If you must pick a game based on the color of the uniform, make sure you pick a national champion with a blue uniform. Twelve of the past 13 years, the champion has had a shade of blue in their uniform. Louisville in 2013 is the lone exception.
Always remember that this is just for fun and entertainment. I wish you all best of luck!
By Zach McCrite
People always claim that certain non-December times of the year are their own “Christmas.” I am no exception. March is my Christmas.
I, admittedly (and sadly) pay less attention to my family in March than any other month. Moreover, I probably get less work done in March than any other time of the year. The good news: that holds true for many others in my extended family and in my workplace.
However, there are tips to make this work. Tips that I have cultivated over a long period of time. Tips that I now hand over to you, fellow college basketball-lover, to get you through this awesome month when others close to you have wondered where you have wandered.
After all, it is Christmas… better to give than to receive.
Here we go.
Tips for the married March Madness fanatic: If you want your life to be OK during the month of March where you may not spend as much quality time with your spouse, then it’s time to start building up brownie points now before the tournament begins. My tip: Wash everything. Your gender matters none. Just wash everything.
That’s the big deal in my house, at least. I have come to find out that if I wash anything, whether it be clothes, the dishes, the car, the baby, the high chair – it doesn’t matter – if I wash it, things go better between me and my wife. Brownie points are earned. Start washing everything.
Also, it’s time to let your spouse know right now, right as you’re reading this that these days are now marked off the calendar if they aren’t already. They are March 8 to 12 (that’s conference tournament time, which, as of this writing, may be the only way my Indiana Hoosiers make the Big Dance) and March 16 to 19 (that’s the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament).
Block out the time in your family calendar. Mark it “Christmas” and don’t let it be changed. If you’re a pro, you did this long ago. But, if not, do it now. If there is any function that your spouse wants you to attend during these time periods, let the other know that the only valid functions you will attend must include a ticket to a venue where basketball is being played.
Tips for the March Madness-crazed parent: Wash your kids (see above).
Also, if you have the type of kids that want to watch basketball with you during the month of March, by all means, have at it. This is a great time to nurture the relationship with your child while doing something you love. But, if your friends have an “no kids”-type thing going on for the NCAA tournament (and that might be the case), here’s a special workaround: reserve the conference tournaments as “kid time” for watching March Madness. That way, when it’s time to belly-up with your adult friends for the first and second rounds the following weekend, you’re in the clear. Let your kids know of your plan up front.
Tips for the spouse that doesn’t much appreciate their significant other being gone the entire month of March: Your significant other should have already accrued brownie points at the beginning of the month. If not, they’ll make it up to you. You’re just going to have to trust me on this.
Tips for the March Madness-obsessed employee: If you have vacation time, now is the time to use it.
Pro tip: The earlier you schedule the time off the better. As March Madness approaches, other employees are going to be requesting off left and right. The earlier you schedule your time off, the more likely it is to be approved. Do it now.
Also, when it come to the first “real” day of the NCAA tournament – Thursday, March 16 – you can probably get away with just taking a half-day off of work. Work until noon, when all the games tip, and then be off for the rest of the day. And if you’re into conserving your vacation days, take another half-day off on Friday… unless you really like to enjoy your Thursday, in which case you should take all of Friday off.
Tips for the bosses of the March Madness-obsessed: Your employees don’t want to be at work during the first and second round of the NCAA tournament. That’s just how it is. Let them all use their vacation days, even if it means your “numbers” will be down for the month because – newsflash! – , your numbers are going to be down anyway on the account of it being March.
Either let them use their vacation and get less output, or make them come to work and get less output. Same result either way, except the former makes you look like an awesome boss whom they will work harder for in the future because their employees respect you (and leaves them with less vacation – a win for you, Mr. Boss!). The latter just gives your March Madness-immersed employees another reason to hate you (and they get to keep that vacation time).
Tips for the March Madness bracket-filler-outer: Fill out one bracket. ONE! Then throw that bracket into as many contests as you want. No one wants to hear you say “I picked that 15-seed to win in one of my 38 brackets and guess what? THEY DID! Respect my hoops genius!” No one.
Also, don’t overthink your bracket when you fill it out. Everyone else is. These days, picking mostly favorites is akin to going “against the grain” and who wouldn’t like going against the grain with favorites in their back pocket.