NCAA

The day the brackets died

705582.jpg

The day the brackets died

OMAHA, Neb. -- College basketball is a cruel bastard when nobody can win the office pool.Or when you learn that you cant.For all the kvetching about free throw lane violations, bad seeds and crap shooting from three-point range, the salient facts are these: You spent hours trying to win your pool.
You cant win it.

For this, you may thank the delightful collection of players at Norfolk State and Lehigh, at Ohio and North Carolina State and South Florida and Virginia Commonwealth, too.Indeed, only one regional, the East, is still intact, and priming and taping one regional doesnt get the garage painted. Face it, youre out.
But now comes the harder part. Can you marry yourselves to the Norfolks and Lehighs and Ohios and VCUs and The Wrong USFs through the brutal second round, where all surviving 15s and 14s and almost all 12s go to die? Can you carry yourself to a second weekend when your teams are mostly gone?The answer, oddly, is that you ought to.PLAY! CSN's Bracket Challenge -- round by round game
College basketball has desperately needed Friday for years now. The tournament has become so top-heavy and so weighted toward to the elitest elites that there is no real drama after the round of 64 is done.I mean, you may have lost half your two-seeds, but if you were lazy enough to go straight chalk, you still have your Kentucky and your North Carolina and your Michigan State. We dont like your Syracuse so much, but you can cling to Jim Boeheims irrepressible stubbornness in the face of perennial scorn and a year ordered direct from the Hell.com catalog.That remains the final frontier the 16 that cheats fate. Still perfectly vaporized after 108 tries, the 16s can now pretend that they can be next years Norfolk or Drexel, because most of the time they are the same teams.But the good news even if the plucky longshots are plucked themselves tomorrow is that the NCAA Tournament Committee must now do more than their usual cursory job of vetting those 12s through 16s. I mean, if theyre going to go to the trouble of becoming live underdogs rather than competitive meat with eyes, they must be analyzed with more than the usual You seen em? I havent seen em. Make em a 15 and lets order another bottle of the Rag Top Red.No, it isnt that simple, of course, but until Friday it certainly did. Friday was the day the brackets died and the committee had to face the fact that its job is now harder. The second level teams are now not as good as they used to be, and the teams at the bottom now have legitimacy.And college athletics hates when that happens.But while were here, lets move on to the subtext of the day free throw violations.Officials are hated because, well, because Pavlov said it should be so. But two games were affected by late-game lane violations that threw the Internet into a tizz-let. This of course caused everyone to blame the officials yet again for carrying the bricks given them by the officiating supervisors who drop yearly points of emphasis in the officials preparation packets.This years clearly included lane violations, and because most Internet arguments start with Ive never seen that, therefore it must be bogus, the rage was palpable.But the rage was directed at the poor schmoes who made the calls the ones who would not advance to the next round if they ignored the violations.So hate the call. Of course you do. But dont hate the caller hate the system.A lane violation is one of those calls officials would rather get early in a game, to let the players know theyre watching. Theyre like hand checks and walks and cheap grabs off the ball and the over-the-backs that when called judiciously can shape the game in subtle ways that are all to the good.But the notion that officials shouldnt decide a game in general is false, because they decide them all to one extent or another. Moreover, the idea that they shouldnt decide them with a lane violation denies the fact that you get what you get when you get it, and you call it when it comes.The problem with the call being a lane violation is that it means the officials either didnt tell the players enough times to watch when you break the plane, and were not kidding, or the players ignored them. If the supervisors want lane violations called, then it is part of the officials job to call them, or to do their damnedest to make sure players know that theyre going to do so. Ignoring them isnt an option, not in this system. Do we know if that level of preventing officiating happened? No, because nobody pays attention to most of what an official does. If it didnt happen, then the purpose of a point of emphasis is wasted. If it did, well, the complainers are just going to have to eat it on that one.But they wont linger long on it. In fact, theyve already moved on to Saturdays games, which are all about chalk, and Sundays, which are all about madness. Your bracket is shredded; give up.But if you can watch the games even with no chance to win, then you are a better person than most.

Pac-12 to experiment with ways to shorten football games

scott-larry-ap.jpg
AP

Pac-12 to experiment with ways to shorten football games

LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-12 will shorten halftime and reduce the number of commercial breaks during its non-conference schedule this season as part of a trial program to reduce the length of its football games.

Halftime will be 15 minutes long, cut down from the usual 20-minute break. The number of commercial breaks will be reduced and they will be shorter in length, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said Wednesday.

Scott announced the initiative as the Pac-12 kicked off its media days in Hollywood. The experiment is intended to shorten ballooning game times in an era of up-tempo offenses running more plays and the increased scoring that comes with it.

"Just because metrics show robust ratings and attendance doesn't mean we shouldn't be experimenting and piloting with formats that will keep the sport attractive," Scott said. "It's incumbent on us to look at the presentation of the sport and make sure the pace of play is moving as much as possible and without changing the fundamentals of the game."

Scott did not completely dismiss potential rule changes in the future to address the length of games, saying that the upcoming experiment was part of a larger, more comprehensive review.

Scott noted that Pac-12 games have averaged nearly 3 hours and 30 minutes, more than 30 minutes longer than NFL games. Some of that discrepancy can be attributed to stopping the clock after first downs in college football, a rule not used in the NFL.

The halftime reduction could be a significant incentive to keep television viewers tuned in. Scott said up to 30 percent of the audience is lost during that break.

The changes could also have a positive effect on stadium attendance since Pac-12 fans have complained about the increase in late starts under the conference's most recent television deal. Fans might be more likely to watch a game in-person on a Thursday or Saturday night if they have a chance to get home before midnight.

For Arizona and Arizona State, which hold their early-season home games after dark to avoid the desert heat, it could mean their fans spend less time in triple-digit temperatures.

Pac-12 coaches consulted about the change did not believe it would hinder their ability to make adjustments at halftime, Scott said.

"I was delighted to hear our coaches feel like 20 minutes is more than they need from a student-athlete health and rest and X's and O's perspective," Scott said.

Scott also announced the league's plans to operate a centralized replay center, joining other conferences in consolidating its video review facilities.

The Pac-12 title game will stay at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, through 2019, Scott said. The league also has the option to hold the 2020 game in Santa Clara.

New Cal coach Wyking Jones ready to prove critics wrong amid changes

wyking-jones-cal-ap.jpg
AP

New Cal coach Wyking Jones ready to prove critics wrong amid changes

Even the most passionate Cal fan might struggle to name a single player on the current basketball roster. The team's top five leading scorers from last season have all departed. Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird moved on to the NBA, Grant Mullins graduated, and both Charlie Moore and Kameron Rooks elected to transfer.

But perhaps the most significant change is on the sideline. Out is Cuonzo Martin, who agreed to a massive seven-year contract with Missouri, worth a reported $21 million. Replacing him is 44-year-old Wyking Jones, a longtime assistant coach, who spent the past two seasons as Martin's top aide in Berkeley.

Jones' promotion was met with heavy criticism from many in the media, both locally and nationally. Skeptics believe Cal settled for the cheap option, rather than the best option. But why can't both be true? There's no denying that salary played a factor in the hire - the athletic department's financial troubles have been well documented in recent years. But Jones impressed Athletic Director Mike Williams in other areas too, reportedly acing his job interview with a detailed plan for the program moving forward. And unlike the other candidates, Jones already has direct experience dealing with Cal's unique set of circumstances.

“It's not something that you can walk into and just get a really good grasp of,” Jones explained. “It's a learning curve that, if you walk into this situation for the first time, it would take you a tremendous amount of time. Knowing who to go to when you need things, who's in charge of this, who's in charge of that, just having a familiarity of how to really get things done around here.”

Jones also discovered the challenges of recruiting at a school like Cal, where not every athlete can qualify academically. While many coaches would view that as a negative, Jones chooses to embrace it.

“In my mind, that's what makes this place special,” he said. “It's the number one public institution in the world for a reason. Your recruiting pool shrinks quite a bit, but that's okay because typically what happens is if you get a kid who has a lot of discipline on and off the court, you're not going to run into troubles on the weekends when they're in the dorms. They're usually kids who have a lot of respect for the community and other students.”

From a coaching standpoint, Jones has unquestionably paid his dues in the world of college basketball. Prior to joining Cal as an assistant in 2015, he made stops at Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount, where he also played from 1991-95. Now, after nearly 15 years in collegiate coaching, Wyking Jones is a head coach.

“I think initially it's very exciting to have an opportunity to coach, have your own program at a storied program like Cal, to follow in the footsteps of some great coaches,” he said, smiling. “But now the smoke has cleared and it's time to get to work.”

That work has already begun. As previously mentioned, Jones will have to replace his top five scorers from a year ago, who accounted for nearly 56 points per game. The Bears will count on increased production from senior center Kingsley Okoroh and junior guard Don Coleman. They will also rely heavily on redshirt senior forward Marcus Lee, who sat out last season after transferring from Kentucky.

“It's an adjustment, for sure,” Jones admitted. “But you have 13 scholarships for a reason. It's just an opportunity for the guys who are still here to earn their scholarship. It's an opportunity for them to make a name for themselves and have an impact on this program.”

Under Cuonzo Martin, Cal established itself as one of the best defensive teams in the country. Last season, the Bears ranked 18th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 63.4 points per game. Jones hopes to continue that trend while also implementing a full-court pressure defense, similar to the one he coached at Louisville, which resulted in a national championship in 2013.

“It's a process,” he acknowledged. “In year one, hopefully we can be good at it. In year two, look to improve. In year three, hope to be great at it... It's a type of defense, when you're talking about pressing, it's reading all the other guys on the court. It's never scripted. It's being able to read when is the right time to go trap, when is the right time to go switch, when is the right time to bluff and stunt at a guy to slow him down. So there's a learning curve in it.”

Jones knows there will also be a learning curve for him personally as a head coach, especially with such a young and inexperienced roster. He expects his team to be overlooked and undervalued by much of the college basketball world, but that's just fine with him.

“I think a lot of people will probably guess that we won't be very good, and that's motivation right there. That's motivation for my staff, for our managers, for the support staff. It's motivation for everybody that's a part of this program to exceed those expectations. So I think that makes for an exciting season.”