WeAreDePaul.com Bubble Report - 1/24/07

WeAreDePaul.com's Mike Adam is back with today's Bubble Blog...

So where was Monday's "Bubble Report"? With the euphoria of the Bears, I decided that nothing was going to rain on the parade. As such, while I love college basketball analysis, dissecting the landscape after a DePaul loss didn't feel particularly appealing. So I sat on my couch, watched the Colts come back against the Patriots, and started to formulate my thoughts for today.

There's something I wanted to get off my chest, for starters. For the past couple of days, I just read the board. Like clockwork after the Louisville game, the chicken or the egg discussion reared its head. Was the latest loss the coaching staff's fault, or was it the fault of the players? As I was reflecting on this, I thought about the ebbs and flows of the board this year. Someone help me out here – I can't remember a thread on the board after a loss where consistent credit was given to the opposition for winning the game. By this logic, if DePaul wasn't such a failure eight times this season, they'd be 19-0 right now. If whatever the pet peeve about the team hadn't emerged during the games they lost, DePaul would not have failed.

Why was I thinking of this? Well, I was watching the post-game interviews of the Bears-Saints, and later of the Colts-Patriots. Drew Brees was gracious in defeat. Sean Payton was gracious in defeat. Tom Brady was gracious in defeat. Bill Belichick – well, he's never gracious, but he at least gave the Colts some credit. Whether these guys actually believed what they said is a matter of conjecture, but they said these things because they're expected to say them. When LaDainian Tomlinson was less than gracious in defeat because he felt the Patriots were less than gracious in victory, it was a national story. We expect our athletes to go up to the podium, mumble some platitudes, and come back the next day/week/year trying harder.

Yet fans aren't held to the same standard. We rarely credit the other team for being better. Why is that? It's always, "if only our team had done xyz", even though the other team's specific goal was to prevent our team from performing xyz, and apparently, they were able to do it. To me, it just seems like an odd double standard. Maybe it's just as simple as the players being accountable to a coach and/or management who expect them to say those sorts of things, while we as fans are not.

Let me make sure to clarify my thoughts on this matter. After a loss, I don't expect everyone to join hands virtually and sing along with Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy". Naturally, frustration wants to be expressed, especially when some of the problems appear to be as rudimentary as making free throws and blocking out for rebounds. Thoughtful discussion about the team's issues for that game or the season is what makes the message board hum. But thoughtful discussion requires considering all points of view, not just the ones that make your particular argument. And I just got weary reading the ones that seem to appear after every single loss.

I don't mean to single out dweb here, but I think he's an excellent example of how the message board should work. I think he would readily acknowledge that many of his views are not necessarily popular. However, his arguments are always cogent, and if someone has a differing viewpoint, he's there to digest the information and respond to it. I have a healthy respect for what he writes, as I think many others do, too.

In my opinion, those who are always placing the fault at the same place after every game (and I will say up front, it's a very small minority of the board – many on here consider all points of view before identifying what they perceive to be the issue) are not doing the requisite analysis about the game. They've already predetermined the problem and are going to make the facts fit the preconceived notion, reality be damned. It's a very simple mind game, and unassailable to the person who's playing it.

We can even take an example from the Super Bowl. Rex Grossman is like a White Castle hamburger to Chicago Bears' fans – you either love him or hate him (he has the same effect on your stomach as White Castles do either way, though). How many of you know someone who, no matter what he does, finds some fault with him? How many of you know someone who, no matter what he does, explains that he's a young quarterback who's still feeling his way, and have you seen his record as a starter? I can't remember a professional athlete in the city who has polarized it so much.

So, too, is it with DePaul. I was hoping someone who taped the Louisville game could do me a favor. As we all know, Juan Palacios was hot from behind the arc, especially in the first half. I seem to recall two shots in particular where I felt Wilson Chandler, who was guarding him, was slow recovering on a screen, giving Palacios enough room to drill the three. First of all, am I right about these plays, or is my memory failing me? My second question is the million dollar one that gets debated on here weekly – who's at fault? Is it Wilson, because he didn't get to the shot quickly enough? Is it the other player (I think in at least one case, it was Sammy), who didn't help out Wilson enough while he was trying to recover? Is it Coach Wainwright for either a) assigning Chandler to Palacios or b) not properly teaching the two DePaul players how to defend Louisville's play? Or did DePaul have the plays adequately defended, but Louisville just executed better on those particular plays? It's not as easy as assigning blame to one person – and it's not even as easy as just assigning blame, as credit might need to be given where it's due.

I guess I just don't understand why, after every loss, it feels as if there's a race to get to the board and assign blame to someone. Help?

I don't consider DePaul out of the chase for an NCAA Tournament bid at the moment. A 6-4 stretch to finish the season plus one Big East win would put them in the conversation, in my opinion. It wouldn't make me feel good, but it would make me watch Selection Sunday. That whole "Last 10" stretch that I talk about as criteria for Tournament inclusion? Yea, we're just about there. If DePaul can turn on the jets, they can make it. But I'm sure no one feels like they can accurately predict what this team is going to do from one night to the next.

As for today's analysis, I started thinking about DePaul's pre-season expectations. "Sleeper" was a term that thrown around quite a bit, and more than one publication was bullish on the Demons' chances to qualify for the Big Dance. What I wanted to think about was whether those expectations were too high, given where DePaul is in its life cycle under Coach Wainwright.

As we've established ad nauseum on the board, there are two aspects to winning college basketball games: talent and coaching. For purposes of this discussion, I'm going to set aside talent. It's too nebulous of a concept. Fans like to say, "the talent is there". Then they start spouting off stars and rankings and the like…all the while forgetting that this is a SUBJECTIVE assessment. This is not to say that those who make these subjective assessments for a living are not the experts when it comes to making these assessments – this is their livelihood, and they'd better be pretty good at it if they want to continue to eat. But it's not a tangible formula – it's all based on the eyes of the beholders.

For example, if Player A is ranked #46 and Player B is ranked #58, can you tell me how much more productive I should expect Player A to be over his college career? Does that translate into .2 more points per game? .07 more assists per game? And yet one school gets touted for having a "Top 50 recruit" while the other school does not. I just can't wrap my arms around the concept, and I apologize in advance to all of you on the board who grasp and enjoy the recruiting aspect of basketball more than I do.

Coaching, on the other hand, is tangible. That's why the coaches get the won-loss records that are associated with the programs while he's coaching them. Some have it easier than other because the table was set for them. Others have to work harder because they're building or rebuilding a program from the ground up. Regardless, though, they all eventually get judged by the numbers in the columns labeled "W" and "L".

It's about this point in the conversation that if you're a fan of a downtrodden program, someone will try some lame exercise where they say "name this coach". They show you his records during his first three years, and he's like a combined 4-72, and it turns out the coach was James Naismith. Again, we strive not to be trite here on the Bubble Report (no comments from the peanut gallery).

So let's start with an easy question: who would you consider to be the 65 most successful coaches in America in 2005-2006? Simple: the 65 whose teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament. My follow-up question would be: how long did it take for these coaches to reach success for the first time? When did they qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time as the head coach of their current programs? The results:

First year: 22 (34%)

Second year: 13 (20%)

Third year: 9 (14%)

Fourth year: 10 (16%)

Fifth year: 3 (5%)

Sixth year: 3 (5%)

Seventh year: 1 (2%)

Eighth year: 1 (2%)

Ninth year: 1 (2%)

Eleventh year: 11 (2%)

Those numbers add up to 64. One team, Belmont, has had the same coach since they were an NAIA school, so I didn't feel that was an apples-to-apples comparison.

So at first glance, you might say that Coach Wainwright is behind the curve if DePaul doesn't qualify for this year's NCAA Tournament. Over half of last year's NCAA Tournament field's head coaches had only one or two years of tenure at their current schools when they first qualified for the NCAAs. But when you take a closer look, many of the coaches who first qualified for the Tournament in either their first or second years were essentially building on success that was already there. Coaches in this group include:

Brad Brownell – UNC-Wilmington (Jerry Wainwright's successor, incidentally)

Jamie Dixon - Pitt

Rob Jeter – Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Chris LowerySouthern Illinois

Bill Self - Kansas

Bruce Weber – Illinois

Yet when you look at the list of coaches who fall in that three to five-year bucket, you see folks like this:

John BeileinWest Virginia

John Brady - LSU

Jim Calhoun – Connecticut

Tom Crean - Marquette

Mike KrzyzewskiDuke

Jay Wright – Villanova

Which batch is the more impressive group of coaches to you?

So what to conclude from all of this? Well, if you feel the DePaul program was in a good spot when Dave Leitao left, then Coach Wainwright might be a bit behind the curve when it comes to qualifying for the NCAA Tournament…assuming the team doesn't this year, of course. However, if you feel that DePaul needed some rebuilding, it's possible that the job will take the remainder of this year, plus a little more (as much as no one wants to hear that).

There – did I make up for not writing on Monday?

The Good

Villanova 82, Providence 73. Without this score, I was staring at the prospect of putting something like, "The Bears are going to the Super Bowl" as the only good in the past 48 hours. Why is this good, anyway? Simply, DePaul beat ‘Nova (13-5, 3-3, RPI: 14) and they don't play Providence (13-6, 3-3, RPI: 63). Wonder what Gary Parrish thinks of the Friars' chances now?

Southern Illinois 56, Northern Iowa 54. I'm sure everyone saw the finish of this one, as UNI's (14-5, 6-3, RPI: 45) game-tying lay-up came a few tenths of a second too late. The Salukis (15-5, 7-3, RPI: 9) are in no bubble trouble at all, which is why I'm moving this game into the "good" section.

The Bad

Kansas State 73, Chicago State 36. Given their plight, it's hard to make jokes at the expense of the Cougars (7-16, RPI: 160). That having been said, they're the only team in the country whose RPI is higher than their average home attendance.

Gonzaga 80, Portland 68. Gonzaga's (13-7, 4-1, RPI: 51) in a tricky spot for bubble watchers. If they run the table in the West Coast Conference Tournament, they'll seal the only bid from the conference and keep a bubble spot open. But if they stumble in that tournament, then every conference win helps strengthen an at-large position on which they might have to fall back.

Virginia Tech 92, Miami (FL) 85. Seems as if the Not Castrated Turkeys (14-5, 5-1, RPI: 32) are determined to lock up a bid this year. Maybe one or both of the Vick boys could pay a visit to campus and screw things up for them?

The Ambivalent

St. John's 71, Notre Dame 68. I don't wish to alarm you, but St. John's (12-8, 3-4, RPI: 148 ) is now just one game under .500 in conference…and we've played more than one game. Meanwhile, the Irish (16-4, 4-3, RPI: 49) are slowly sliding down the standings and the RPI ranks.

Louisville 68, Connecticut 54. There's quite the pile-up in the middle of the Big East. Louisville (13-6, 4-2, RPI: 73) has some nice records right now, but a putrid commensurate RPI. Connecticut (13-6, 2-4, RPI: 87) isn't even within shouting distance of the bubble right now. If the conference tournament started today, Connecticut wouldn't qualify for it.

Illinois 51, Indiana 43. While I'm sure the scene in Champaign was intense, the bubble world observers let out a collective yawn at this result. ILL-INI (15-7, 3-4, RPI: 46) has lots of wins right now, but a 3-7 record against the RPI Top 100 and a 12-0 record against everyone else. That's not pretty. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers (14-5, 4-2, RPI: 22) got dinged, but it was on the road to a Top 50 team, so not much harm done. They've still won ten of 12.

Boston College 85, Florida State 82. It just seems so odd that the leader of the ACC, Boston College (14-5, 6-1, RPI: 34), has the sixth-highest RPI rank in the conference as of this morning. And that four ACC teams are literally #32, #33, #34 and #35. I'd bet $20 Jay Bilas is involved in this somehow. On the other side, the Seminoles (14-6, 2-4, RPI: 26) still have a buoyant RPI because of better non-conference scheduling this year, but they can't take a ton of conference losses and expect to be okay come Selection Sunday.

Let's go, Demons.

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