Reaching into the Bilas mailbag

Originally Published: February 2, 2004
By Jay Bilas | Special to ESPN.com

ESPN's Jay Bilas answers a few questions each week from ESPN.com users.

How ironic that your article, "To Foul or Not", was posted at the perfect time. All three were different situations, but I think Dan Monson, Bob Knight and Quin Snyder should have had their teams foul when the clock was under 10 seconds. Particularly Monson, who had a three-point lead with 2.8 to go and Michigan State taking the ball out of bounds under its own hoop. All three lost in OT. My thoughts about fouling are this - if you foul with under 10 seconds - several things have to happen for a tie. They have to:

1) make the first free throw.
2)they have to get the rebound.
3) they have to score another basket to tie.

Probably no right answer, as you suggest. But watching all three of those games, I wanted to pull my hair out for them not fouling -- especially Minnesota and Texas Tech because there was so little time on the clock when the trailing team took the ball out of bounds.

Brent Kaniecki
Waterloo, Ill.

Brian,
First, prefer "prescient" to "ironic"...just kidding. To foul or not is all a matter of what you believe in as a coach, and the strategy of fouling is sound ... if executed exactly right, and at exactly the right time. While I respect your philosophy to foul with under 10 seconds, I believe that is too much time. I would say to consider giving a foul if up three with three seconds or less. Over that and you are extending the game and allowing the other team to dictate the finish, and you are giving them a chance to win, rather than a chance to tie.

Remember, Missouri still had a chance to go down and hit a two or a three to win. As for Minnesota and Texas Tech, you are correct that each could have fouled, but they each needed to do it exactly correctly.

As for your scenario, I believe that there is far less that has to happen for you to lose. First, if you foul with 9 seconds and your opponent hits the two free throws, your team has to inbound the ball (not always easy in late game situations) and could turn it over. If you get it in and your opponent fouls right away, your team has to hit two free throws just to get back to being up three. If you miss one (or both), your opponent has seven or eight seconds to win the game, rather than tie.

There is probably no available research on the percentages of 3-point misses when down three, but my sense is that it is very low. The ones that are made are the ones we remember, and the ones that hurt. While I accept that fouling when up three with under ten seconds can work, it can also backfire in a big way. I have seen it happen, and it is devastating. Good analysis on your part. Thanks for the question.

In the NFL, they talk about a blueprint to get to the Super Bowl. Is there a blueprint to get to the title game in college basketball. What would be required in that blueprint if you had to make up one? What teams currently fit the profile of a champion under the blueprint you would create?

Chuck Schildknecht
Louisville, Ky.

Chuck,
The "blueprint" has more to do with your preparation than anything. The team that is playing at its peak in March, that has built along the way, is in the best position to preform well at the end of the season. I subscribe to the theory that was put forth by the New England Patriots this season. When asked about winning 14 in a row, a Patriot player responded that they had simply won "one game 14 times." To me, the teams that win consistently take it one game at a time, without thinking about the whole. When I was in college, my coach broke down the season into segments, and gave us intermediate goals. That made it easier to deal with the number of games and top quality opponents we had to play one after another. When you looked at the whole schedule, it was tough to fathom winning every game, but when you looked at each game, there was not a game we could not win. So we decided to win each game. We won 31 games in the 1986 regular season, losing only two on the road to teams in the top five.

In the Tournament, we broke it down even further. We looked at each weekend as a four team mini-tournament (which is really what each week is). In the first weekend, you cannot win the national championship, but you can lose it. We went to the first and second rounds looking at it as just a four team tourney, not even considering what was happening elsewhere. The last thing on our minds was what was happening on the other side of the bracket ... only one team comes out of there anyway, so who cares what they're doing or how good everyone is? The second weekend, we looked at the Regional semis and final as another four-team tourney, and won those two games. All of a sudden, we were in the Final Four, which is a ... four-team tournament.

Sadly for me, we lost in the final game to Louisville, but ended the season 37-3 against the nation's toughest schedule. When you hear the cliche "one game at a time," that's what it means, and it is the only way to go. Golfers say one shot at a time, and it is the same principle. It is all about focusing on what your job is, and nothing else. The blueprint is simply the task at hand. Thanks for the question.

The Duke and UNC game is fast approaching. Duke has a lot of scoring power in Reddick and Deng, but it's the defensive end that I'm concerned about for Duke. Outside of Sheldon Williams blocking shots, and Chris Duhon getting steals, do you think the Blue Devils will be able to match up well defensively with McCants, Felton, and Manuel on the perimeter?

Zach Baker
Avon, Ohio

Zach,
North Carolina is fully capable of beating Duke, and clearly Duke can handle Carolina if it plays at its best. I think that Duke is playing the best basketball of any team in the country, and the Blue Devils have answered the call every time they have been challenged. While I still believe that UConn has the best chance to be great in March, Duke is further along in its development right now. Still, watch out for the Huskies, they have the chops to cut the nets down in San Antonio.

Carolina is talented and still young together. However, the Tar Heels have not yet shown the mentality to stop people on the defensive end. They battle you to score, but not to keep you from scoring. Until the collective mindset is to shut somebody down, Carolina will be vulnerable to upsets. Duke is better right now, but Carolina can win, especially at home. In the Duke-Carolina rivalry, the better team does not always win, just the better team that day. No human being can figure it out, and in my experience, you never will. The team that is better prepared for a fight will win it. Enjoy the front row seat!

Is it just me Jay, or has anyone else thought about the fact that Providence College is a combined 0.5 seconds away from being 15-1? (Prior to losing to Seton Hall) Forget about the controversy at the buzzer, Providence was down 21 points to Texas and took it to OT (nevermind the fact that PC didn't have Rob Sanders their second best player). They literally handled UConn in a way that no one else has at UConn (Again without Sanders). Bottom line -- How good is this team?

Dan
Providence, R.I.

You are not alone. Tim Welsh has done a marvelous job with this team, and with Sanders back, this is a contender. Just because of the loss to Seton Hall, it is no time for people to fall off the bandwagon. Ryan Gomes is one of the best college players in the country, and should be first team All-America. Fear the Friars!

Jay, love this forum. Living in Boiler country, was tough to swallow being an IU fan early in the season. But now the Hoosiers are red hot. I know that having George Leach back is a huge bonus, but he can't be the entire reason they've had such a huge turn around. Do you have an ideas why this team went from one of the worst in IU history, to Big Ten contenders? And why is nobody giving them any love? People are quick to kick them when they're down, but not to give them props when they're going well. Thanks, and I look forward to your answer. Keep up the good work!

Matt
Lafayette, Ind.

Matt,
The Hoosiers are simply more confident, and playing to win. Marshall Strickland and A.J. Moye are more aggressive, and George Leach is back. As well as the Hoosiers have played, I still think that there are better teams in the Big Ten, and Indiana is vulnerable to getting beaten. The Hoosiers are good, but a long way from being very good. The NCAA Tournament is a good possibility, but the Hoosiers need to keep winning. I really like their kids, they have hard workers and good attitudes. Thanks for the question.

It's been a real sad season to be a Minnesota alumn. My friends and have only one question: When are they going to fire Monson? He wanted the opportunity to coach in a big-time conference and we feel that opportunity has come and gone. Your thoughts?

Jason Fennema
St. Louis, Mo.

Jason,
You need to back up from your computer for a second, because I am about to begin a rant. Truly, no disrespect to you or your question, because I think our culture is totally out of whack in these situations.

Here is my take ...

If Minnesota were to fire Dan Monson, they would expose themselves to be complete idiots. I have seen him perform as a coach for years, and he is a very good one. Monson proved that with his performance at Gonzaga (and it is harder to win there, I promise you), and took the Minnesota job after a horrendous scandal that rocked the university. The only ones that should be fired are the ones that were in charge in the 1990's at Minnesota.

Monson has not even begun his contract yet! He has been saddled with probation through this season, which includes severe recruiting restrictions. Dan Monson has restored honor back to Gopher Country, and those that cannot see that need a white cane with a red tip on it.

Monson has lost Rick Rickert to his delusional belief that he was ready for the NBA, Wesley Washington to eligibility, and Mo Hargrow to a severe brain cramp (more on that below). I will grant you this ... Minnesota has had some players recently that have been more interested in their own personal success rather than team success or winning. It is not their fault, it is the way that they have been brought up in the game. Over time, that will change. Monson is trying to change the culture at Minnesota, and he will do it. Give him a fighting chance, one that has not probation and sanctions brought on by others. Monson didn't make this mess, he took on the challenge of cleaning it up. Gopher fans need to remember the bad old days that led to Clem Haskins' firing.

As for Hargrow, I have no problem with him leaving Minnesota, but not at the time he did it. He ran out on his teammates, and if I were a coach considering him for a transfer, I would take that into consideration before taking him. He may be a great kid, but he acted poorly in this situation. He should have played out the season. Unless he has severe personal problems that he has not disclosed, I disagree with his decision and the manner in which he implemented it. Reasonable minds can differ, and it is his life, not mine. However, Hargrow will not get any votes from me for "Teammate of the Year".

Thanks for your question. My rant is now officially over. I feel better now.

Has the Air Force academy being flying under the radar or what? They lead the nation in scoring defense and field goal percentage, are ninth in scoring margin and 12th in winning percentage, and now after impressive victories over BYU, and Utah sit alone atop the MWC as the only undefeated team in conference play. I realize that they have played one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the nation, but what do you think there chances are of making it to the big dance?

Gayle Jackson
Chrisman, Ill.

Gayle,
I think the chances are very good. There is still a long way to go, but the Falcons have some good wins, but need more. This is one well-disciplined and well-coached team. Joe Scott has done a fabulous job of implementing his Princeton system, and it has been difficult for Mountain West teams to guard. I like their chances to make it, but not to advance past the first weekend. Thanks for the question.

Isn't it time ex-UNC coach Matt Doherty receives consideration for a high-profile job? I'm thinking Utah. I know the Utes will probably stick with a Majerus assistant, but Doherty can recruit with the best (May, Felton, McCants) and is a former Coach of the Year. Give the guy a chance. If Doherty doesn't get a big-name job, I know he'll take a smaller school to the national scene.

Brian
Bloomington, Ind.

Brian,
Doherty is a fine coach, and will get another opportunity soon because he knows how to do this. There are few things that he cannot handle after his experience at North Carolina (which has been discussed ad nauseam), and he will prove himself again in his next job. Utah is a good job, but an unusual one, and I think that Stew Morrill of Utah State is the best fit. He knows the area, the school, and he is an outstanding coach. If I were Utah, that would be my first call.

If I were an AD and needed a coach, Doherty would be on my short list, and I cannot think of a good reason why I would not hire him, other than the fact that he hit a shot out of his dreams to beat my team in his last home game as a senior at North Carolina. Coach K told us not to guard Jordan, Perkins or Daugherty, but to concentrate on Doherty, and we didn't listen. Actually, Matt Doherty was an outstanding player, and a versatile one. If not for the caliber of player he played with, he could have been All-ACC at another school. My sense is he would rather have the banners. Thanks for the question.

Hey Jay, it doesn't seem like you're too impressed with St. Joe's. You have them ranked sixth on your expert poll and haven't said much about them. With Jameer Nelson, Delonte West, and Pat Carroll, don't you think St. Joe's is a top-three caliber team? Remember, they don't play particularly tough teams, but they did beat Gonzaga, who I think is underrated losing to the only two unbeatens left (St. Joe's and Stanford).

Connor Hetherington
Glastonbury, Ct.

Connor,
Not impressed with St. Joe's? Moi?!! Yikes! What do I have to do, tattoo the Hawk on my backside? Wait, don't answer that!

You should be high on your Hawks, as should anyone in my job. In my defense, I have said consistently that Nelson is the best point guard in America, and that Nelson and West form the best backcourt in America. I named Phil Martelli my midseason Coach of the Year, and I have said that St. Joe's has the chops to make the Final Four with the right matchups in the Tournament. Which statement indicates that I'm not impressed?

Clearly, St. Joe's has not played the toughest of schedules, but that is not the fault of the players, and doesn't affect my analysis of the team. The Atlantic 10 is not offering up much resistance, and there were few great challenges in the non-conference season. Still, the Hawks would be formidable in any league. Do I think the best team in the country resides on Hawk Hill? No, but St. Joe's is for real, and this team is truly special. Thanks for your question, and I will begin working on that tattoo!

This is in response to you your thoughts on the jump ball you talked about when Mississippi State lost to Kentucky. My question is, why is it not better to have and jump ball versus a possession arrow? A jump ball would seem to be fair, more so at the end of a game and some arrow. I am a Mississippi State fan so I am going to be a little biased here, but seems like the possession arrow is, in some cases rewarding the team that makes the mistake, or not rewarding the team that makes a good play. Maybe the rule could be changed to: the last minute or so of the game go an actual jump if you get a jump ball.

Jared Brewer
Nashville, Tenn.

Jared,
You have a great point, but I tend to go the other way on this one. The alternate possession was instituted because there was too much inconsistency in the administration of a jump ball. First, it is time consuming and not particularly satisfying. Second, the toss is hard to do consistently, and the matchups for those jumping it up are not always even. Third, who says that the defense should be awarded the ball just because they tied it up? That is hardly fair ... and the best anyone can say is that there should be a jump ball. I played in the age of the jump ball, and it was not that great. The alternate possession rule may not be perfect, but I think it is better than jump balls. Actually, I prefer Rock-Scissors-Paper, myself.

It is just a matter of preference, and my preference is no better than yours, nor is my opinion. Tell you what ... we'll jump it up to see who's right. What do you say?

Jay Bilas is a college basketball analyst at ESPN and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Jay Bilas

College Basketball analyst

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