KinderGarden: Big East, NCAA

The latest clippings and croppings from the garden, including some thoughts on the Big East basketball season, more stringent NCAA academic progress guidelines and more.

It has certainly been an interesting first couple of weeks of the Big East basketball season. Teams are knocking each other off at an unprecedented rate. To date, some of the more noteworthy permutations and combinations:

WVU and DePaul down Villanova, which responds by beating Georgetown on the road, which had just ripped up Notre Dame. The Irish, who owned a win over #8 Alabama and had only a narrow loss to underrated Butler on its resume, had won 12 in a row to that point. Marquette, thought by many to be a rising league power, was knocked on the head literally (guards Wes Mathews and Jerel McNeal bumped noggins) and figuratively (conference losses to Providence and Syracuse). The Orange have four losses on the season, but three of those were to top 25 teams with the fourth to Drexel, which is an NCAA contender. St. John's knocks off DePaul. Providence is undefeated in the conference. Louisville struggles early with some undistinguished losses.

From here, it looks as if Pittsburgh has the inside track to the league title, but after that it could be a wild scramble. And with league teams beating up on each other with more regularity, it could be tough to get more than six or seven teams into the NCAAs. Already some pundits (including a selection of locals) are grumbling about the supposed weakness of the conference. I'd suggest they watch some of these games before deciding the teams involved aren't any good.

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On John Beilein's first Mountaineer team, it took me about three minutes to decide Jo Herber was my favorite player. I'm having a much tougher time picking out a fave on this year's team. Part of that is because there's just no replacing Jo (that's more of a joke aimed at my co-workers, who never fail to rip me for making Herber my selection), but more due to the fact that I see things to like in so many players on this team. Alex Ruoff's defensive skills and court sense, combined with a hint of cockiness. Joe Alexander's rapidly maturing game. Da'Sean Butler's sneaky ability on the boards. (Does he remind anyone else of Damian Owens in that regard?) Rob Summers' refusal to listen to all the naysayers who said he couldn't play. There's just so much to like.

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The NCAA has passed new rules that will ban teams from postseason play, cut scholarships and restrict practice for failing to meet academic progress standards in four consecutive years. After three consecutive years of failure, teams will be warned publicly. If the shortcomings extend to a fourth consecutive year, the stiffer penalties will ensue. The standards will be enforced only on those teams that fail to meet the standards, not on the entire school. The rules will take effect in the spring of 2008.

What do I think about that? Well, you knew I was going to tell you, otherwise I wouldn't have brought it up. I think it's bad. I don't think that members of athletic teams should be held to any higher standards than the student population at large. Yes, I understand playing sports is a privilege, not a right, but so is being a member of any of the dozens of clubs and organizations provided by any college or university. Does Joe Schmoe have to meet APR standards to be in the Astronomy Club? Do Jill Pill and all the members of her team have to meet them to participate in intramurals?

I understand the motivation to keep academics as an important part of the student-athlete equation. I just don't think this is the way to do it.

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WVU's basketball team certainly has an odd schedule. It ran through a three-week, six game homestand, but now plays just two more games at the Coliseum in the month of January. Just six games remain at the Big Mushroom in the 2006-07 season. Where'd the time go?

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The hoop team isn't the only Mountaineer squad with an unbalanced look to its schedule. The West Virginia wrestling squad is in the midst of a 56-day gap between home meets. WVU downed Duquesne at home on December 15th, and won't take to the home mats again until Feb. 9.

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