Reaching into the Bilas mailbag
ESPN's Jay Bilas answers a few questions each week from ESPN.com users.
Here are some questions concerning last week's column on underrated players:
As far as overlooked players, have you taken a look at Rhody's Dawan Robinson? A terrific, confident, take-charge point guard who can drive, stroke it from 3 and defend as well as anybody in the A-10, save for Jameer Nelson. Give this overlooked kid from Philly some due props -- he's the most important piece in Jimmy Baron's terrific rebuilding job at URI."
Virginia Beach, Va.
I have seen Robinson, and he is an outstanding player. He's already canned more 3s than he did all of last year, and he is getting to the free throw line with regularity. With Robinson, Brian Woodward and Dustin Hellenga, Jim Baron has some players who can produce numbers and have learned how to compete and win. I watched Jim work a lot when he was at St. Bonaventure, and he took a Rhode Island program that was in the dumper and put it back among the contenders in the Atlantic 10. Jim Baron is not a self-promoter, just one hell of a basketball coach. If St. John's hasn't thoughtfully considered hiring Baron away from Rhody, they are crazy.
Have you seen Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock from Iowa State yet? These two freshman guards are fantastic and I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on them! Together they teamed up to pull out a win at home against Mizzou, making the go-ahead basket (Stinson) and essential steal (Blaylock) in the last minute of Wednesday's game. If they stick around for four years, Iowa State could be a real Big 12 force in the coming years. I also want to say that head coach Wayne Morgan seems to be doing a more than commendable job at resurrecting the ISU program following last year's unfortunate circumstances. Tell me what you think!
Sarah Mannes Homstad,
I have seen them, and I have been very impressed. First, Blaylock and Stinson play a lot of minutes, yet do not seem to pace themselves or take plays off mentally. Stinson is one of the 10 best freshmen in the country. He is only 6-2, yet he is very productive in every category on a stat sheet. He outrebounds all but Jackson Vroman on the Iowa State team, and he leads the team in scoring. He is clever with the ball, and attacks the basket off the dribble. He turns it over too much, but you hate to put the brakes on such a talented kid ... you're better off living with the mistakes, as long as they are mistakes of commission rather than omission. Of the surprise teams, I would put Iowa State right up there with Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and UTEP.
"In your 'Show Some Love' column, I was hoping to see my man Marques Green of Saint Bonaventure. Everyone knows what Jameer Nelson can do surrounded by a talented team and a great two-guard. Marques averaged 20 points and eight assists per game last year with no talent around him (including the infamous welder JUCO). This year he has upped his points because he has even less talent following the scandal: 23.8 ppg, 5 apg, 4.3 spg and 3.8 rpg from a 5-7 guard? Those numbers are ridiculous! As Niagara's coach said after Marques put up 43 against them, "If he were 6-feet tall, he would be in the NBA right now." Check him out if you get the chance, you won't be disappointed."
Bemus Point, N.Y.
Good call on Marques Green. I agree with you that he is fantastic, and another in a long line of excellent but diminutive guards at St. Bona, behind Shandue McNeill and Tim Winn. Green is incredibly quick, gets up underneath ballhandlers and makes it difficult to dribble against him, and he can make open shots. That one probably should have been a tie between the two, but I really think that Nelson is overlooked as being the nation's very best point guard. Chris Duhon is a fine player, having a marvelous year at Duke, but if he were to switch places with Nelson, there would be discussion about putting Nelson's number up in the rafters in Cameron. That may sound like blasphemy in Durham, but I think it's true.
"The most underrated player in the Big Ten -- TRULY underrated player (meaning people don't even have this guy on their radar), is Jan Jagla of Penn State. He is a force for them. In fact, he is probably the Big Ten's MVP as he is TRULY the most valuable player to that team and more valuable than perhaps any other player is to any other Big Ten team. Do you agree?"
Great call, and that is what my decision came down to ... Tucker or Jagla. Jagla is the most improved player in the league, and he has been consistent at a very high level this season. He has almost doubled his scoring output from a year ago, and he has tripled his 3-point production. It's so hard to determine the best player at a position, the most improved or the most underrated, but its fun to discuss it. Best of all, Jagla is playing with a free mind, and is going after things without fear. I chose Tucker over Jagla because I thought that some could figure out Jagla's worth by simply looking at the stats, while Tucker's worth could easily be lost in the shuffle. As for the Big Ten's MVP, I still think that goes to the player that had the best year (which includes winning). Before its all said and done, it could very well be Jagla.
"Why is it that the UConn Huskies can have a team full of good players and good shooters, be so poor at shooting free throws? How much will their poor free throw shooting catch up to them in the future?"
Good question, and few know the answer. If the Huskies do not shoot free throws better than they have, it will catch up with them on the road first, where you seldom get as many chances as the home team, or on a neutral court (which is a tournament setting ... not a fun time to lose). The good news is free-throw shooting is fixable. Usually, free-throw shooting comes down to routine, repetition, and concentration ... all of which lead to confidence. A confident free throw shooter is usually a good one, and a player that is not thinking about the consequences of missing, but of nothing else but making the shot. Sometimes being a good free-throw shooting team is just a matter of getting the right guys fouled, so if your primary handlers and big guys are poor free throw shooters, then your team will have a lower overall percentage.
If UConn had hit its free throws against Rutgers at the RAC, it would not have been a close game. The fact that UConn can win on the road while giving away points is a pretty good indication that the Huskies are very good, and can get better. I have said from Day 1 that I thing UConn is the best team in the country, and I still believe that. No team has more potential to be great than does UConn.
In a world FULL of pundits and poseurs, I really value your insight and I'm always trying to learn more about the game and how its complexities play into a season. That said, I know you have some respect for Coach Calhoun and the UConn program, but as a UConn alum, I'm getting REAL nervous about their "up and down" performances. Geez, ONE point over Rutgers?! Okafor, Gordon, Villanueva ... and it seems to me a GREAT bench ... my question is, WHAT AM I MISSING as I try to remain level-headed about my team, their schedule and the length of the season? Your insight is much appreciated.
Tim ... a Husky in Badgerland!"
Thanks for the kind words. I think that UConn is still building toward March, and that the team is progressing nicely. Remember, Taliek Brown is playing hurt right now, and Charlie Villanueva is still new to the picture, having missed the first six games. Marcus White is out for the year, and the Huskies are still loaded with quality talent. I don't think that UConn is anywhere near playing its best right now, but will start to come together in January and February. Remember, also, UConn has not shot the ball well from the free throw line, missing 20 free throws against Georgia Tech and 14 against Rutgers. The free throw problem should correct itself, and once the Huskies stop giving away points, they will be even better.
"I'm not sure if anyone has brought this up, but when the clock in a game reaches 00.0 seconds, there is still one-tenth of a second remaining in the game, since the clock truncates off any time units smaller than tenths of a second. The buzzer and light on the other hand, only go off after the full 20 minutes have elapsed. Therefore, it seems perfectly reasonable that there be a delay between the clock reaching 00.0 seconds and the light turning on on the replay -- the delay should be exactly one-tenth of a second. While in almost all cases this won't matter, in the case of Texas-Providence, I believe the ball left the players hand during that tenth of a second when the clock read 00.0, but there was still the small amount of time not shown actually left in the game. If the light and buzzer were to go off at 00.0, technically the half would only be 19 minutes and 59.9 seconds long. Does this make sense?"
You are correct, sir, and it makes perfect sense. In real time, the delay you speak of is impossible to notice, but clear when the replay is slowed down, frame by frame. The important thing in the end-of-game situation is that the referees got it right. They took their time, consulted the replay and each other, and came to the correct conclusion. Say what you will about officials and their abilities, but it is almost universal that the prime objective of the officials is to get it right. They did.
The officials also got it right on an intentional foul call in the second half on Donnie McGrath, but I don't think that the rule they enforced is a good one. McGrath fouled a Texas player as he was going in for a layup, and McGrath intended to foul him to stop him from getting an easy two, wanting him to earn it from the line. McGrath made contact with the player, the player made the shot, and the referee called the intentional foul and counted the basket. According to the rules and points of emphasis, McGrath was called for the intentional foul because he did not give the correct appearance of going after the ball instead of the man. There was not excessive contact, as the Texas player made the shot, and never hit the ground. As a result of the call, Texas not only got the basket, but two free throws and the ball (a potential 7-point play). To the officials' credit, when Texas inbounded the ball, one of the refs called an offensive foul on Texas, which was a clear make-up or make-good call in my judgment. That was the right thing to do given the situation that the rule created, and the negative impact it had on the game.
I think that the intentional foul rule needs to go. Judging intent from the circumstances is not appropriate. Two shots and the ball should be awarded upon "excessive contact", not on whether the player really wanted to foul as strategy. The NCAA concedes that fouling in certain situations is good and fair strategy. To suggest that some fouls are intentional because one player did not do a good job of "acting as if he was making a play for the ball" is kind of silly, and it could have cost Providence the game. Just my opinion, and reasonable minds can differ.
"Darn it, Jay,
I'm tired of these experts and analysts playing politics and not taking a definite stance on the "best conference" debate. Sure it's all semantics, but it's entertaining and it's what you guys are supposed to be doing. So I want you to admit right now that the ACC is the best conference in the country, no ifs, ands or buts. Don't agree? Then tell us who is and why."
Paul, The ACC is the best conference in the country this year, and I think that is objective fact. Last year, I thought the Big 12 was the best league because it had great depth of good teams and, most importantly, had the most great teams capable of winning a national title. This year, that league is the ACC.
You know that I am objective on this one, because when the ACC got only three teams into the NCAA field for two straight years a few years ago, and the ACC coaches whined about media hype, I said that the league had only three teams with any claim at all to a tournament bid, and that the ACC was a top-heavy league that had accomplished little outside of the top three teams. This year, the ACC has Duke, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and North Carolina -- all of which are capable of making the Final Four. In addition, Maryland, Florida State, and N.C. State are in good shape to be NCAA teams. The ACC has four teams that have been ranked in the top 10 this season, and will prove to be the best league in 2004.
You are a wonderful and insightful broadcaster. Is there any way the MAC can get two teams in (the NCAA Tournament)? I think Western Michigan and Toledo have a shot at getting an at-large bid. What do you think?"
It will be tough for the MAC to get two bids unless the top two teams can pile up at least as many RPI Top 50 and RPI Top 25 wins as the middling teams from the major conferences. Right now, Western Michigan would get in as an at-large team based upon its current RPI ranking of 17. Of course, that will change during the year. Kent State and Toledo are in the 60s, which is the danger zone. If Western Michigan could stay up in the RPI Top 40, and lost in the MAC tournament final, there would be a pretty good chance the MAC would get two teams in. Otherwise, it's just a counting contest of wins against the RPI Top 25, 50 and 100. Wins outside of the RPI Top 100 don't really help that much. It may not be fair, but that's the way it is.
"Why every week in your Power 16 poll do you continue to disrespect the Louisville Cardinals? They are No. 2 in RPI and in the AP top 10, but yet you continue to rank them somewhere around 20. They have beaten two No. 1-ranked teams and one of them on their home floor, in Rupp no doubt. I can maybe deal with UK being ranked higher, but not Florida. That's just biased, period. Do you really believe that there are 17-plus teams that can beat Rick Pitino and his Cardinals? If you do, then I have lost my respect for you and your knowledge and will accept that you are still bitter from 1986 when you didn't get that ring."
Lighten up, Francis.
Where was your thank you note when I ranked Louisville No. 1 at one point last year, and said that Reece Gaines was one of the 10 best players in America? It must have gotten lost in the mail. First, I hate polls. I take all of five minutes to do the Power 16, which is about four minutes too long. I would prefer to analyze teams and their strengths and weaknesses rather than have a weekly beauty contest that provides knee jerk reactions to a win or loss that particular week. If a team plays well and loses, do you still drop them? What if a team plays poorly and wins, and you see signs of decline? You could throw all of the top 20 teams in the country up in the air, and rank them where they landed right now, and you would not be too far off.
Do I really believe that there are 17-plus teams better than Louisville right now? Maybe not, but every one of the teams I ranked ahead of Louisville can beat the Cards, and Louisville can beat every team ahead of them, as well. If you'll notice, the only team that Louisville has beaten that I ranked ahead of the Cards is Kentucky. Steve, my brother lives in Louisville, and I visit there often. I have played several rounds of golf with UofL golf balls given to me by Denny Crum (which could make me unbiased or just too cheap to buy unmarked golf balls!). I promise you that there is no bias in my rankings. By the way, did you happen to catch College Gamenight last night? We featured the Cards ... you're welcome. Thanks for the question, and I hope you'll still respect me in the morning.
"What's your feeling on Vanderbilt this year? Are the Commodores for real, or is that "sparkling" record just a result of a lot of home games and a fairly weak non-conference schedule. The wins against Indiana and Michigan looked stronger earlier in the season, but if the Big Ten is down overall, there may not be much to get excited about yet."
Go ahead and get excited. Vanderbilt is very good, very cohesive and very talented. The Commodores are a top 30 team, conservatively, and can beat a lot of teams, not just Big Ten teams. The win over Auburn was a very good one, and proved that Vandy can hang with really athletic teams. I am a believer in Kevin Stallings, and I think that Matt Freije is one of the top big men in the nation. I also like the way Vanderbilt rebounds the ball, leading the SEC in rebound margin. This team is very good, and can get better.
Jay Bilas is a college basketball analyst at ESPN and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.