On the second day of 2017, a medium-weight college basketball schedule included quite a few games, though few of the high profile variety.
Regardless of the stories developing early in some conferences (the Metro Atlantic and Southland being turned upside down, for example), it can’t be ignored that the biggest news of the day came off the court. Duke announced on Monday that head coach Mike Krzyzewski will undergo lower back surgery this Friday, and is expected to be out for up to four weeks. This will be the second time Coach K has missed significant time during a season for back surgery, and the first time since 1994-95.
First off: here’s hoping the surgery is a success for Krzyzewski, who someday soon will close an incredible career. Nearing age 70, it’s just a fact that retirement isn’t too far around the corner, regardless of how well that black hair hides it. Clearly the back is a serious issue for him to be getting this done in the middle of a season, so wishing the best for him.
For Duke this season, it’s just the latest in a string of obstacles that has already included numerous injuries to its much-hyped freshman class, as well as Grayson Allen’s suspension (which still continues). Of course, if there’s any program that is equipped to deal with all of this, it’s one that has been to 12 Final Fours and won five national titles in Krzyzewski’s tenure, and that has all the national visibility a school could ever dream of thanks to its many former players and coaches working in the media.
And just in case the Blue Devils don’t handle it as well as they might hope, we also found out that the NCAA Tournament selection committee will be there to provide them a safety net anyway. The other part of Monday’s story was shared by Jon Rothstein of CBS and fanragsports.com, who reported that an NCAA official said that the selection committee will certainly consider separating how Duke does when Krzyzewski is away from the team from how the team did under him. The especially chilling quote in Rothstein’s story, from the unnamed source: “We’re going to look at how the team performed when Coach K was coaching and when he wasn’t. Obviously if Duke wins all of their games it won’t matter, but if they don’t, this will be taken into consideration.”
You can be assured that in coming weeks men’s basketball selection committee members will soft-pedal these comments, but past experience tells us it certainly sounds like the committee is ready to let another program slide under the Jim Boeheim Rule, giving a built-in excuse for losses because a coach wasn’t on the bench. In this case, the circumstance of the coach’s being out is not as egregious as Syracuse’s last year, but it once again highlights a completely ludicrous part of the selection criteria.
The committee continues to pretend to be able to make judgment calls on results based on subjective factors, typically in the form of injuries in the past but also recently extending to coaches absences and even suspensions. We get it: it’s an attempt at contextualization.
It doesn’t matter how well-intended it is: it is wrong. And this isn’t an anti-Duke rant, either-it is flat-out absurd and preposterous in every single case.
It is impossible for one selection committee member-let alone 10-to properly evaluate what the result of a game might have been if both teams were at what a given committee member considers to be their fullest strength. For that reason alone, there is no reason why they should even try.
Does the committee really consider that margin of victory or maybe even a result of a game might be influenced by, say, a team playing its first 16 games of the season on the road, as Texas Southern has this year? Does it know about and seriously spend time considering how a result would’ve been if one team missing two injured players faced another with two starters and their sixth man playing but affected by the flu? No way. There’s not enough hours in the day to do so, even for the committee members that put in a great deal of time on this task throughout the season.
Of course, the other reason why it’s so laughable to have this as part of the selection criteria is because we know the committee really isn’t trying to contextualize for everyone. The injury and absence consideration has always been applied almost exclusively to higher-profile teams, those that are talked about on TV the most. Yet injuries and absences for programs that aren’t in the news or on TV every week are undoubtedly glossed over.
You think the selection committee is going to give Dayton a pass this year for losing to Nebraska without Kendall Pollard? You really think the committee is going to write off Valparaiso’s double-overtime loss to Santa Clara when it was without senior starting forward Jubril Adekoya? (We’ve already had that answered in the recent past; the committee didn’t consider a number of injuries for the Crusaders last year.) Will Central Florida get its losses without B.J. Taylor reduced if he comes back and leads the Knights to 20 wins and a high finish in the AAC?
You know the answer to every one of those. They won’t.
Nor should they. In those cases, the selection committee would be doing the right thing by ignoring the circumstances around those results. Except it should be treating every injury or absence the same, which is to say paying no attention to it at all. Whether it be Duke or Valparaiso, Syracuse or Texas Southern.
There is more than enough data available-statistical and analytical from watching games-for committee members to be well-educated on teams when they go into and through the tourney selection process. To introduce more subjective information-when the committee is incapable of balancing all of said subjective info in any remotely fair way-is a waste of time, making a task harder than it is.
Wins are wins. Losses are losses. Every team-no, every person on the planet-goes through extenuating circumstances of some sort during the seasons. That’s called life. The selection committee’s attempts at playing God on this are beyond futile, so there’s no reason to even try.
- On to the results from Monday night, where a number of conferences are being flipped on their tops early on. Three games into the conference season for most teams (four for a few others), the MAAC has five teams tied for the top spot at 2-1. None of them are named Iona, Monmouth or Siena, the three preseason favorites. Canisius, Fairfield, Quinnipiac and St. Peter’s are four of them (Rider is the other), and all four won Monday. The Golden Griffins edged Siena 82-79, as the Saints dropped to 0-9 on the road this year. St. Peter’s handed Monmouth its third straight loss with a 71-61 win. The Peacocks are a tough out, while the Hawks are starting to slide near the category of being a bit of a disappointment this year. Fairfield outran Iona 93-87, while Quinnipiac came back from a 12-point deficit in the last five minutes to stun Niagara 81-78 on the road.
- The Southland is another conference in bizarre shape right now. Expected favorites Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are now a combined 1-5 in league after SFA was handled by McNeese State 69-54 and TAMU-CC lost at Nicholls State 68-64.
- William & Mary and Hofstra have played some dandies in recent years, and they did it again the day after New Year’s. Daniel Dixon hit a three-pointer at the buzzer of overtime to give the Tribe a 95-93 overtime win on the road, reprising his game-winning triple over Hofstra in the 2015 CAA Tournament semfinals.
- Also in the CAA: UNC Wilmington eased past Elon 79-63 to move to 13-2; Northeastern continued to be involved in one exciting finish after another, winning at Drexel 75-70 in overtime, and James Madison-2-11 out of conference-is now a surprising 2-0 in the CAA after an easy 64-44 win over Towson.
- Louisiana-Lafayette pounded the offensive glass and earned a surprisingly easy 69-52 win at Arkansas-Little Rock. The Ragin’ Cajuns looked good, while the Trojans clearly are not the team they were a year ago.
- Old Dominion tipped North Texas 55-48 in Conference USA, while Rice picked up a convincing 89-70 win at UNC Charlotte. The Owls are off to an 11-4 start.
- Texas Southern still has not played a home game this year and snapped an eight-game losing streak by beating Alcorn State 67-65 as Jalan McCloud scored the winner at the buzzer.
Tonight’s Menu: With the holidays past and the new year settling in, the schedules also start to settle down into a routine.
- Indiana has a prime opportunity to stem its recent bleeding as the Hoosiers host Wisconsin (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN). At the same time on TV, Clemson can give a big boost to its postseason resume when it hosts North Carolina (ESPN2), though the Tigers can be assured of getting the Tar Heels’ best after their ugly loss this weekend to Georgia Tech.
- Saint Joseph’s plays its first game without Shevar Newkirk when it travels to Rhode Island (7 p.m., CBSSN).
- Another good one in the Atlantic 10 has Dayton at St. Bonaventure. How this game isn’t on national television is beyond our comprehension.
- Texas A&M tries to get its season restarted when it travels to Kentucky (9 p.m., ESPN).
- Kansas State goes to Kansas (9 p.m., ESPN2) for the 285th installment of their rivalry. The Jayhawks have won a staggering 60 of the last 67 meetings.
- West Virginia faces its second straight road test as it goes to Texas Tech (9:15 p.m., ESPNews).
Have a terrific 10th day of Christmas.