Friday, March 20, 2015

NCAA Tourney Day 1

What an incredible day of games. In lieu of a more comprehensive article, I'll just go game by game in chronological order, talking about things I noticed in each one.

Notre Dame 69, Northeastern 65

I had not been able to do any research on Northeastern until Thursday morning, but as the day got going, the more I became convinced this would be a really good game. You can start with the NE roster - their starting frontcourt is a a 6'8 235 senior (Scott Eatherton) and a 6'8 225 junior (Quincy Ford) and they both can play. They even brought a 6'7 220 senior (Reggie Spencer) off the bench and he could play too. Eatherton was a bruiser with a post game, Ford could step out and shoot and Spencer was an athletic guy who could run, hit the glass and finish around the basket. That's a formidable combination of players and it's an embarrassment of riches for a team from a mid-major conference like the CAA. Any team with that much size you have to take seriously.
That went double for a team like Notre Dame, which didn't have a ton of size for a high major team. They were a four-out team that liked to spread the floor and out score bigger teams in the ACC, but that style of play means they forfeit the traditional advantage that a high seeded team is going to have in a game like this. Do I think it's a coincidence that a coach who loves small ball as much as Mike Brey has struggled in the NCAA Tournament? Not really. And if you look at what happened in this game, for as much as everyone talks about Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson, the guy who really saved their bacon was Zach Auguste, their 6'10 240 center.

NE was able to control the game for most of the first half because Auguste was in foul trouble. When he got going in the 2nd half, there wasn't much NE could do. He finished with 25 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists on 14 shots. It makes sense that NE set up their defense to make the ND big man go 1-on-1 - they were so used to having a size advantage in their conference they didn't want to have to restructure their entire defensive strategy. But while 6'8 235 can shut down the lane in the CAA, there's only so much he can do against an ACC big man like Auguste. That's the type of player Notre Dame hasn't had too often and he's going to have to be the difference maker if Mike Brey is going to put his March struggles behind him.

UAB 60, Iowa State 59

You can see the difference that Auguste makes in the struggles of Notre Dame's comrade in arms - another 3 seed from the Midwest without a lot of size who plays a fan friendly style of basketball based around spreading the floor and hoisting 3's. The idea this year with Iowa State was the presence of Jameel McKay would change things and while McKay did everything in his power to clear the glass and protect the lane (12 rebounds and 6 blocks) he doesn't have the type of offensive game to where you could throw the ball into him and expect production on offense (10 points on 8 shots). What that means is that Iowa State couldn't impose their will on the game on a smaller team like UAB, which was ultimately their downfall.

The big story of the game was the glass, where UAB absolutely crushed Iowa State. UAB ended up winning the rebounding battle by +15, including an absolutely devastating +10 margin on their offensive glass. There's nothing more dispiriting for a team than playing great defense and then giving up an easy putback and then repeatedly came back to haunt Fred Hoiberg's team. You won't find a bigger Hoiberg fan than me but I thought he made some questionable decisions in this one, most notably not giving Bryce Dejean-Jones more minutes. BDJ (6'6 210) was their best perimeter athlete and their best chance to match UAB's physicality and he spent most of the game in his warm-up jacket.

With BDJ watching Hoiberg's beloved shooters getting punked all over the floor, Iowa State was conceding most of the athletic advantage you would expect a Big 12 team to have against a team from Conference USA. It wasn't necessarily a huge deal for the Cyclones since they were used to giving up size and speed to their opponents in Big 12 play, but that means the 3 is playing the underdog style to the 14, which throws a lot of your traditional assumptions about a game like this out the window. The biggest eye-opener was the struggles of Georges Niang, who could just not create any separation against the longer and more athletic UAB defenders.

As it turns out, this loss was the beginning of an atrocious day for the Big 12 and I think you can start to see a pattern for what happened. This goes back to what I wrote on Wednesday about the importance of looking at conference road records. Iowa State was only 5-5 away from Hilton this season. Most of their success came from jumping Big 12 teams in their home gym, a place that is one of the most difficult to play in the country. When they went on the road, their lack of size became more of an issue. And if their biggest scalps were against their conference mates (who struggled greatly today) and against Arkansas at home, that meant that the right opponent on a neutral floor would give them a lot of trouble. If it hadn't been UAB, it would been the next round - both SMU and UCLA had a huge size edge over Iowa State.

Arizona 93, Texas Southern 72

Georgia State 57, Baylor 56

From a national perspective, the big story is obviously RJ Hunter and The Shot and The Chair and The Moment That Will Love Forever. From a Texas perspective, though, it's hard not to make the story about Scott Drew.

The number that jumps out at you is 21 TO's for Baylor compared to only 6 TO's for Georgia State even though A) Baylor is way more talented and B) both teams run gimmick zones designed to create TO's and easy run outs. Did the Baylor coaching staff not watch any film before this one? It's hard to fathom how a team with a senior PG running the show was so disjointed and completely unable to handle such relatively simple ball pressure.

If Drew really does some soul-searching, this loss might cause him to wonder why he plays so much zone, given the amount of talent he has on his roster. Zones are what the Sun Belt champs are supposed to bust out on one of the most talented teams in the Big 12 - not the reverse. Georgia State wants to play a zone-based game with a Baylor team that is bigger and faster than it at almost every position.

There are a lot of different factors involved in why The Deepest Conference In The Country struggled so mightily in the NCAA Tournament and has in the last few but one of the underlying causes is the underachievement of two of the programs - Baylor and Texas - that should be carrying the conference's banner. Those schools have access to some of the best players in the country. There's no excuse for some of the coaching those guys receive and it seems to annually come back and bite them on the game's biggest stage.

Butler 56, Texas 48

The next edition of "Big 12 coaches getting hoisted on their own petards come Tourney time" takes us to Rick Barnes. It this was his last game as a Texas coach, he certainly saved some of his best work for last. To get into the rot of Barnes program, though, you have to go way deeper than the generally inept performance his vastly more talented squad put on display on Thursday.

In a lot of ways, I think the worst thing that could have happened to Rick Barnes was getting a commitment from Myles Turner last summer. I'm not saying this because I don't think Turner is a great player and a fantastic prospect (he is) or that Barnes had any choice about pursuing him (he didn't), just that the confluence of a program-encompassing downward spiral and the skill-sets of the returning players on the team meant that adding Turner put Texas right into the middle of a bear trap that they could never get out of this season.

The basic problem is the Longhorns already had four good 6'8+ guys on their roster - Cam Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert - and all of them were going to struggle to get enough playing time at the 4 and 5 positions as is. When you added Turner into the mix, the whole thing was completely unsustainable. The only way to divvy out the playing time was to move Holmes to the 3 and play as a super-sized front-line. Even then, you were still dividing a very fixed number of minutes at the 4 and 5 between 5 guys (since Holmes still doubled as a small-ball 4), making it hard for any of them to get in a rhythm.

It's the same problem the Pistons had this season with Josh Smith. As a 4, Holmes is a good floor spacer who can put the ball on the floor. As a 3, he's an inconsistent shooter who can't really take smaller guys off the bounce. In theory he could post them up but because he's playing with a 4 and a 5 who are (at best) iffy shooters, there's no room. Conversely, with Holmes at the 4, there's no room for the other two big men to do their thing either. Everyone is just playing on top of each other and it clogs up the offense. It's not a great defensive alignment either, as Holmes is much more suited athletically to guarding 4's than 3's. Barnes even tried to go with a 2-3 zone for awhile to get all his big men on the floor even though he had never been a zone coach before. A coach who was never known as an X's and O's magician probably shouldn't have been making half-court offense any harder than it had to be. There's just a lot more room on the floor when you play 3 perimeter players as opposed to 2.

Where the situation went from problem to full on catastrophe was the way in which Barnes filled out his perimeter rotation. If you are going to play three big men at the same time, your guards better be able to A) space the floor B) take care of the ball and C) control tempo and enter the ball into the post. On their best day, the Texas guards could maybe do A and B and never do C. When you play three big men who clog up the lane next to two poor shooting guards who want to push the ball and you don't give them any type of offensive structure to work together, the end result is the grisly fireball that was the Texas season.

Things imploded in perfect fashion against a Butler team that was tailor made to exploit a flawed high-major team like Texas. The Bulldogs packed the paint, forced Texas to take tough shots and completely controlled the tempo of the game. The mind blowing part is how little Barnes went with a 3 guard line-up to open up the floor and give his big men space to operate. The sad part is that if you re-distribute the excess Texas big men to other teams around the conference, they might have made the difference in getting someone to the 2nd weekend.
UCLA 60, SMU 59

There was a lot of foolishness on Twitter about that final goal-tending call and I think in this situation a picture really is worth 1,000 words.
These things happen though. The refs weren't the only reason that SMU lost this game.

1) UCLA was a tough match-up for SMU in large part because there was nowhere they could hide Nic Moore (5'9 170) on the perimeter. For as great an offensive player as Moore is (and he was the American Player of the Year), he's a pint-sized guy who really can't contest shots. That's why his counterpart, UCLA PG Bryce Alford, went for 27 points on 9-11 shooting from 3. Alford (6'3 180) was literally shooting over a chair. The Ponies usually slid Moore over to a lesser perimeter player in American play, but there was nowhere to put him against UCLA, who had Norman Powell (6'4 215) and Isaac Hamilton (6'4 185) on the wings.

2) As long as your best players can avoid foul trouble, depth isn't a huge deal in the NCAA Tournament. UCLA's biggest problem all season was their lack of a bench and Steve Alford rectified that by not playing any of them. Alford and Powell played 39 minutes, Hamilton played 36 minutes and Kevon Looney played 32. The only guy who got any real run off their bench was their backup C Thomas Welsh, who filled in for a fairly ineffective Tony Parker. SMU had much superior depth, but they couldn't dictate tempo and impose their will on the game against a UCLA team that had them out-manned physically.

3) This game was where you really saw the importance of Keith Frazier, the Ponies best wing scorer, who was ruled academically ineligible in the middle of February. Without Frazier to run offense through, SMU had to depend entirely on Moore and their big men and considering the challenges those guys would have against the Bruins, Larry Brown's team was going to need scoring from everyone to beat one of his old schools. Markus Kennedy (6'9 245), Cannen Cunningham (6'10 225) and Yanick Moreira (6'11 225) gave SMU the size to compete with a Pac-12 team but they couldn't just destroy UCLA based off size, skill and athleticism like they could with a lot of teams from the American.

Xavier 76, Ole Miss 57

Ohio State 75, VCU 72 (OT)

There were so many D'Angelo Russell highlights in this game it's hard to choose one. I'll go with this one from the final minute - you know it was a nice move when you still want to re-watch it even though he missed the shot:

I'll have much more to say about his play on an NBA draft recap I'll be doing at The Cauldron but suffice to say that he's really, really nice and his game against Arizona will be one of the most anticipated 1-on-1 NBA draft battles in a long time. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson gave Caris Levert the business in a non-conference game in Tucson so it will be fun to see what they can do against Levert's more heavily hyped Big 10 compatriot.

One other thing I think is worth pointing out is just the general way that teams like VCU tend to play. Let's not have any illusions about them or Butler. They both play a physical, chippy and borderline dirty style of play involved around forcing TO's and contesting shots without fouling and they count on the refs to let shit go on defense. But when they are playing on offense, they are the first team to fall to the ground and exaggerate contact in an effort to get the refs to bail them out with foul calls. It's just hard for me to stomach supporting a team that flops and dishes out cheap shots. You have to pick one or the other - I don't care how appealing an image your head coach cuts on the sidelines.

And I know people will say it looks worse in slow motion (it does) but it's more the generally reckless way in which they play invites those types of things to happen. They are habitual line-steppers and I'm glad Ohio State sent their ass home.

Villanova 93, Lafayette 52

Cincinnati 66, Purdue 65 (OT)

This was the only game today where you saw the team with the big man sent home and the small-ball team move on to the 2nd round. Cincy had absolutely no answer for AJ Hammons (7'0 280) around the basket and they needed a buzzer-beater just to get to OT. Hammons had 17 points and 10 rebounds on 10 shots - the only reason this game was even close was because Purdue couldn't consistently get him the ball in the half-court or run good offense through him, which has been their problem all season. Cincy packed the paint and dared Purdue to shoot from the perimeter and the Boilermakers went 4-26 from 3.

Here's the thing about being a small-ball team though. Cincy's next opponent is Kentucky and if they thought Hammons and Isaac Haas (7'0 300) were a handful, wait until they see what Big Blue Nation has in store for them. In the NCAA Tournament, if you don't have a lot of size it's not going to take very long for you to get exposed.

UNC 67, Harvard 65

Superior size was the story of this game before UNC decided to clinch up and almost choke away the game in the final minutes. The biggest problem for UNC is what it has been all season - they don't shoot the ball well enough to properly exploit their size advantage, as they went 5-7 from 3 on Thursday. (In that case the low # of attempts says it all) That may not be an issue when they play against an Arkansas team that wants to play just as fast and attack the rim for 40 minutes, but you can bet Wisconsin (the 1 seed in their region) will be taking notes if they end up meeting in the Sweet 16. Here's another theme I'll be coming back too over the course of the Tourney - your weaknesses as a team are going to be challenged and exposed the further you get into March.

NC State 66, LSU 65

I'll talk a lot more about this one over at The Cauldron, but this was a fun one filled with a ton of talent. It's about what you would expect for an ACC vs. SEC showdown (the two conferences with the most athletic talent in the country) and I'm hoping for something similar from Arkansas vs. UNC on Saturday.

Utah 57, SFA 50

What's that you say? A high-major team with elite size at the C position (Jakob Poetl at 7'0 235) was able to overwhelm a superbly coached low-major team that didn't start anyone over 6'7? Who would have guessed that would happen?

People were big upping SFA before the Tourney because of their great record and their even better statistics and their history of being a Tourney team, but I watched them for a few minutes in their conference tourney and came away pretty unimpressed. It's a team full of little buddies and they weren't going to have much of a chance against a team that could play big boy basketball, as Utah let them know. Poetl finished with 18 points on 7-7 shooting and that stat probably undersells his dominance. There was just nothing SFA could do and they had to structure their D around Poetl so much that it opened up things for everyone else.

There's a reason these 7'0 are so coveted by NCAA coaches. They are hard to get and when you have one of them you have a huge advantage over 90% of the teams in D1. If you are a low or mid-major team that doesn't have enough size to play with the big boys, you better hope you get a favorable draw against a small-ball team or your ass is almost certainly going home.

Arkansas 56, Wofford 53

1) Arkansas has a 6'11 240 All-American named Bobby Portis.

2) Wofford starts 6'6 220 and 6'6 220 upfront.

3) Care to guess how this movie ended?

Kentucky 79, Hampton 56

Same story, different game. You better be a lot taller than Hampton if you are going to hang with Kentucky.

Georgetown 84, Eastern Washington 74

This is a funny one. The monstrously large Joshua Smith (6'10 350) was in foul trouble so Georgetown just rolled Mikael Hopkins (6'9 240) and Bradley Hayes (7'0 260) off their bench and kept it moving. As Eastern Washington found out, if you don't have the size, your ass is going home.

Beyond how exciting all the games were, that to me was the story of Day 1 of the Tourney. If you don't have enough size, you could lose your Round of 64 games. Round of 32 games tend to be about having the big men and the guards. When you get to the Sweet 16, you start looking at complete teams vs. whoever was able to sneak through an easy bracket while the Elite 8 games tend to be the best in the Tourney. The Final 4 is just a whole different animal we will get too later. In a little over 2 weeks, to be precise. Buckle up because this is going to be fun.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Jim Boeheim

In the wake of a scandal involving widespread academic fraud in his program, Syracuse is at one of its lowest points in Jim Boeheim's 39-year tenure as the basketball coach. Will the team be able to survive the scholarship limits? Would the school really have to start thinking about pushing out such a legendary coach? Would his legacy be tarnished? The NCAA is stripping him of over 100 total victories - he is being publicly shamed in a way that it's hard to see every happening to guys like Coach K and Roy Williams. The difference between Boeheim and those guys is he doesn't pretend to be an idealist. He's a professional cynic. He has had to be to survive in a Siberian outpost like Syracuse. He knows his job is about getting wins.

When you are coaching on Tobacco Road in the middle of some of the most temperate landscapes in the country representing some of the most tradition-rich programs in the history of the sport, you can lie to yourself about what it is that you are doing. The players keep coming in and you keep winning. That's where the media goes when they want some self-serving bullshit about how coaches turn boys into men. When you are surviving winters in Syracuse, you are dealing with some cold, hard truths about yourself and the world you live in.

Before Roy Danforth took over in 1969, the program had no basketball history to speak of. They had made the NCAA Tournament twice in 50 years - this is not Duke or UNC or Kentucky or UCLA or Kansas we are talking about. In a world before ESPN, Syracuse was a basketball non-entity. So how did they become a national power? Boeheim, who played for Danford and then took over for him in 1976, followed his blueprint, making the 2-3 zone the foundation of the program. When you think Jim Boeheim, you should think the 2-3. There's a reason Coach K always brings him along on Team USA to be an assistant coach - there may be no basketball coach in the world who knows about the ups and downs of zone defense better than Jim Boeheim.

No NBA team uses a 2-3 zone full-time for the simple fact that NBA players are too good to zone full-time. If you consistently give NBA shooters open looks from the three-point line, no matter how far away they are from the basket, they are going to beat you. This is the basis behind most modern spread offense concepts - force the defense to extend out beyond the three-point line and attack them in space. Zones work in the college level because NCAA players aren't as good a shooters and they have more difficulty utilizing team offensive concepts to score. If you try to go 1-on-1 against Boeheim's zone, you are going to lose every single time.

If you have the right personnel, it's fairly easy to beat a zone. All you have to do is stick a passing + shooting big men at the top of the key and allow him to pick apart the defense. If you enter the ball into the high post, behind the top two guards, he will always have an opening, whether it's a shot or a pass. There's a reason that very few high-major NCAA teams run zone full time and why only one team that runs a zone (Syracuse) has won a national title in the last 15 years. Zone, as Bomani Jones always says, really is for cowards.

So why do it? It prevents you from having to man-up the other team, which is nice when you don't have the types of players they do. Syracuse plays zone against Duke and UNC for the same reason that most Olympic teams do when they play Team USA. Since 1977, here are the total number of McDonald's All-Americans at those programs:

UNC - 69
Duke - 60
Syracuse - 17

A lot of people ask why elite players come to Syracuse if they are going to play in a 2-3 zone that doesn't do a great job of preparing them for the NBA. The answer is they don't. As a rule, Syracuse is having to dig through the bargain bin for top prospects. In a given year, there are maybe 10-15 players in a freshman class who project as almost sure-fire NBA players, due to their combination of size, athleticism and skill-set. These are the one-and-done guys that have been in mock drafts since they were 15-16 years old. They tend to go to blue-chip schools with a long history of success beyond their current coach where the weather isn't below freezing for nine months of the year.

The guys Syracuse tends to get usually come with a few more flaws. The reason that Boeheim has been so successful is that he recruits guys whose flaws will be minimized by the system he runs. He recruits guys who don't fit positional archetypes - guards stuck between the 1 and 2, forwards stuck between the 3 and 4, big men stuck between the 4 and 5. The pitch is simple. Come play at Syracuse for a few seasons, rack up a whole bunch of statistics, win a whole bunch of games and then get drafted into the NBA. Once you are up there, you are on your own. That's how it goes in this world. All you can ask for is a shot.

Where people have it backwards is they think NCAA coaches prepare guys for the NBA. For the most part they don't. All an NCAA coach can really do is not fuck up a good thing. A lot of basketball players naturally get better between the ages of 18-22, whether they are playing in Europe, the D-League, the NCAA or the NBA. What an NCAA coach can do is put guys in a position to succeed by winning games and designing a system that maximizes their NCAA stats, which is what most NBA teams look for in young prospects. If your coach can't do that, unless you are one of those top 10-15 guys picked as future pros in high school, you are probably going to be out of luck when the NBA comes calling.

The NBA will reach down to smaller schools for stars and big men. If you are a role player, they might as well just draft you from one of the top programs, one of the schools they know regularly churns out NBA-level talent. Everyone puts Syracuse in that category because they win so many games. However, take a look at the Syracuse players drafted since the turn of the millennium and tell me if you notice a trend:

- Jason Hart
- Etan Thomas
- Damone Brown
- Carmelo Anthony
- Hakim Warrick
- Demetris Nichols
- Donte Greene
- Jonny Flynn
- Andy Rautins
- Wesley Johnson
- Kris Joseph
- Fab Melo
- Dion Waiters
- Michael Carter-Williams
- Tyler Ennis
- Jerami Grant

To paraphrase Jay-Z, that's one hot album every ten year average. Most NBA observers look at this list and think that Boeheim isn't preparing guys for the next level. What they aren't seeing is that Boeheim and his players have been systematically defrauding NBA teams that can't see the difference between a player's statistical averages and his skill-set. Does Dion Waiters get drafted at No. 4 overall if he's forced to play man defense in college? More importantly, if Waiters is forced to play man defense for 40 minutes, is his team one of the top teams in the country? 

NBA teams and media observers look at Syracuse players and their success against the top teams in the country and run their numbers through some computer models, thinking they can evaluate Syracuse players in the same way they do guys from Duke and UNC. Syracuse players exist in an alternate reality where a complete inability to play man defense has no effect on their team's ability to win basketball games. When they get to the NBA, the mask slips and the flaws in their game become exposed for the whole world to see. The problem is just as bad in reverse - you have to take anything a guy does against a Syracuse with a massive grain of salt. When Syracuse plays, you can put away the scouting notebook. What you are watching has almost no resemblance to a conventional NBA game.

When Otto Porter dropped 33 points on Syracuse, I knew he would be over-drafted. In a game like that, where he can dribble into open 3's, flash into the high post and cut into open spots behind defenders who aren't actually guarding him, he can look like a superstar. Otto Porter will have a 10+ year career in the NBA but he's never going to live up to be a No. 3 overall pick. If he got to face a 2-3 zone in a bunch of playoff series, that might be a different story.

Syracuse takes advantage of the fact that most NCAA players are not as fundamentally sound as Otto Porter. They don't have the type of patience and feel necessary to pick apart a zone that is attacking them. Most guys come into the NCAA game as products of the AAU system, with only a basic idea of how to play in a half-court game. Play against a team that controls tempo, forces them to execute in the half-court and throws a lot of random traps at them and they lose their minds. From there, Syracuse goes from defense to offense and gets a lot of easy points in transition to make up for the fact that they usually don't have an elite 1-on-1 scorer or playmaker.

It's no coincidence that their two most recent trips to the Final Four coincided with the two best players Boeheim has coached in recent years - Carmelo in 2003 and MCW in 2013. Those guys are the only two Boeheim stars who could have starred for any team in the country. With Syracuse playing their usually stifling defense behind them, Boeheim could give them the ball and count on them to bail out their less talented teammates on offense. It doesn't hurt that it's easy to hide shooters who spread the floor for Melo and MCW in a 2-3 zone.

Why have Melo and MCW been so successful at the next level? Because they have the physical tools and the skill-sets that some of their Syracuse counterparts have lacked. Jonny Flynn was a 6'1 combo guard. Dion Waiters is an undersized 6'4 scoring guard. Wesley Johnson is a 6'7 wing without a ton of offensive skill. Hakim Warrick was a 6'8 combo forward without an NBA position. Etan Thomas was an undersized 6'9 center. What all these guys have in common is they never had the tools to be high-level NBA players, regardless of who was coaching them. The difference is that because they played for Boeheim they were able to make a few million dollars out of unsuspecting NBA teams first.

“[Dion] had nothing to be frustrated about because he was 100 percent wrong,” Boeheim said. He added: “He played no defense last year. Not some. None.”

When you look at it that way, you can see why Boeheim doesn't have a ton of time for critics who blame him for his players lack of success in the NBA. The beauty of the NBA is that its basketball at its highest levels - a guy's individual flaws will be exposed. Your college coach can make you a marginally better shooter, scorer, passer, rebounder or defender by teaching you the basics and forcing you to be accountable but at the end of the day you are who you are in this world. All a coach can do is maximize the God given talent you already have on hand. People expecting Syracuse players to perform as well as Duke or UNC players in the NBA have the entirely wrong idea about what is really going on at the NCAA level.

The other thing NBA fans don't understand is that Boeheim doesn't really care who goes pro and who doesn't at the end of a given season. He would obviously rather have his best players on campus for as long as he can, but he doesn't need them. The guy has won nearly 1,000 NCAA basketball games in his life. His streak of 35+ seasons with at least 20+ wins is an NCAA record. He will be able to figure something out. Were it not for Chris McCullough's season-ending injury, Syracuse would have been right there in the mix for an ACC title, even with Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant jumping early to the NBA.

Boeheim got a lot of flack for what he said about them but he was just calling it how he saw it. He knows that you only have so many chances at the NBA before teams move on. As soon as you get into the league, the clock starts ticking on your rookie contract. By the end of it, if you can't convince teams you can hack it at a high level, you are off to Europe. The only way you can convince teams is if you get on the floor and put up a bunch of stats and the only way you can do that is by either A) beating out a veteran who doesn't want to give up his job or B) having the team make a substantial financial commitment to you in the form of a high first-round pick.

Ennis was taken at No. 18 overall by the Suns but they never gave him a chance to earn minutes behind Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. Now he's in Milwaukee and who knows how long he'll be there, given that they also acquired MCW in the same trade and they just cut ties with Brandon Knight even though he was playing at an All-Star level. If Ennis doesn't stick in Milwaukee, even if it has nothing to do with his game, people are going to start asking Q's. The problem with Ennis is that he doesn't have great size or athleticism, which was somewhat hidden in college by the Syracuse zone. He's never going to be great defensively so every aspect of his offensive game should be 100% on point before he comes in the league.

Grant is a different story primarily because he plays for the 76ers, who are trying something that isn't really attempted in the NBA all that often. You can't fault Boeheim for not expecting an NBA team to so fully embrace tanking and draft positioning - it's not something he has seen all that often. Most NBA teams never embrace that type of "commitment to youth" (i.e losing). In his experience, most NBA teams expect fully-formed players than get rid of them when they find out how much work they still need to do. If Grant was playing for any other team in the league, he would be a 2nd round pick at the end of the bench. See: KJ McDaniels in Houston.

If Ennis and Grant had stayed in school, they would be putting up big-ass numbers for a Top 5 team as underclassmen. Boeheim would have went Ennis - Cooney - Grant - McCullough - Christmas and destroyed people. In that scenario, Ennis and Grant are drafted higher than where they were. Neither would have been a senior this season. There was no real rush. Boeheim may have been thinking about himself a little bit but he wasn't some evil villain trying to screw over his own players. He had some pretty solid reasons to think Ennis and Grant should come back. Maybe it works out for them in the NBA or maybe it doesn't. When you have been around as long as Boeheim has, all you can really go by is your experience over 40+ years of being in the business.

Anyone who spends that much time doing anything is going to take the long view. Life becomes a bunch of probabilities - the probability that another team won't make its outside shots, the probability that a bunch of high-level basketball players won't have much interest in taking classes, the probability that the NCAA won't want to ask too many questions about one of its most high-profile programs. Syracuse has lost NCAA Tourney games because the other team shot them out of the gym with Boeheim steadfastly refusing to come out of his zone. He is a smart guy who plays the numbers and plays the odds and that's what this latest scandal comes down too.

The people worrying about his legacy forget that he's a cynic first, a ball coach second and a "leader of young men" third. It's not that he has something against being a father figure and he seems to have a good relationship with guys like Melo. It's that he knows his job is to win and that people don't really care about academic scandals if their team wins enough games. No one in an NBA front office expects Boeheim to teach trigonometry or to make sure his kids don't plagiarize other people's papers. They know that cheating is rampant in college and that it happens at every program and every school in the country. If a young man has no interest in getting an education, there's only so much you can do to force him to get one.

That was the point of his widely mocked defense about how this investigation took longer than the Black Sox. If you start poking around any NCAA coach in the country for 8+ seasons, some shit is going to pop up. Let's be serious for like 2 seconds. The entire system of college basketball is built on a house of lies and everyone knows it. If NCAA investigators went through the academic notes (!!) of every college basketball player and the financial statements of every player's relative, there wouldn't be a high major team in the country that could fill out a roster. We would be looking at a Patriot League vs. Summit League Final Four. Being an NCAA basketball coach is like speeding on a freeway. Everyone is breaking the law so the law can pull over anyone they feel like and hassle them.

Within the world of basketball, Jim Boeheim is a legend because he wins like he was at UNC or Duke despite coaching in the middle of nowhere. A lot of coaches get talked up in the media about their X-and-O ability when they run the same sets as everyone else, have the same offensive and defensive concepts and stick to a very narrow view of how to run a program. The only thing that separates them is the quality of the players they bring to campus. People talk a lot about "thinking outside the box" and "re-inventing the wheel". Jim Boeheim actually did it.

Whether or not his wins are "vacated" by the NCAA doesn't really matter either. They still happened. The NCAA isn't the MIB - they can't actually rewrite history. If you want to know how many games Boeheim won at Syracuse, you can look it up online and it takes like 2 seconds. The NCAA may have the "official history" but anyone whose really into the game of basketball can look up Boeheim's track record, peep game and decide for themselves how good a coach he really was. Joseph Stalin could edit pics and re-write the Russian Revolution all he wanted, people still knew who was there and who wasn't.

Boeheim's wins matter not because of what they say about him as a coach but because of what they mean for the history of Syracuse's basketball program. Basketball is a way of life in that part of the world and that's primarily because Boeheim has won at such a high level for such a long period of time that he has developed one of the biggest fan bases in the country. College basketball is a sport on the fringes of the national consciousness - they can't afford to thumb their noses at any part of the country that actually gives a fuck about what happens between November and February.

People pretend that college sports are popular because of amateurism when the reality is they are popular because we have allowed the professional sports leagues to run cartels that force the vast majority of places in the country to look somewhere else for a "home team". There's no NBA team in Kansas or Northern New York but people in those places are just like people in New York City and Los Angeles - they still want to belong to something bigger than themselves, they still want to root for the good guys against the bad guys and they still want to come together as a community to watch sports at a high level.

That's why Boeheim's job has never actually been in jeopardy - because no one can win at that school like he can win. Syracuse isn't Kentucky or UNC or Duke. They need a professional basketball coach first. They don't need someone whose selling an image. If someone is going to win there, they need to run Boeheim's schemes and recruit Boeheim's players and if he's still up to do it what's the point in changing up? If McCullough can come back at 100% next season, Syracuse should have one of the top teams in the country. It's not like depth is a huge deal at his program either. One of the beauties of running zone is you only have to play 6-7 guys the entire game.

Boeheim's legacy is the 30,000 people who come to the Carrier Dome to watch a bunch of 18-22 year olds play zone defense. That's real. Everything else is just a bunch of make believe.