NCAA to make changes

ESPN is reporting that college basketball coaches no longer have to shy away from potential recruits during summer camps and clinics on their own campus.

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On Tuesday, the NCAA’s Legislative Council announced it would allow coaches to have “recruiting discussions” on campus, loosening a rule that was nearly impossible to enforce anyway. The change does not mean coaches can go into full recruiting mode, but they can converse with players they are actually recruiting.

The changes must still be approved by the NCAA’s Board of Directors, which meets later this month. The proposal does not distinguish between head coaches or assistants.

“The coach cannot give them campus tours and do the kinds of things that they would do on an official visit,” said Steve Mallonee, the NCAA’s managing director of academic and membership affairs. “We wanted to eliminate some of the third-party influence in recruiting.”

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Somewhere, John Calipari is cackling giddily and drooling at the mouth … what he’s been doing for years pretty much just became legal.

Nneka stars

Former Houston Cy-Fair standout Nneka OgwumikeTwo years ago, I covered then-Cy-Fair junior Nneka Ogwumike as her team made a surging run to the Class 5A state championship game before falling.

The Lady Bobcats won a title in 2008, Nneka’s senior year, and this year Ogwumike, in just her sophomore campaign at Stanford, is leading her team to the women’s championship game against UConn on Tuesday after scoring the second-most points ever in women’s Final Four history on Sunday against Oklahoma.

Ogwumike scored 38 points, nine shy of Sheryl Swoopes’ mark in 1993.

She also had 16 rebounds and two assists.

Congrats to Nneka, who is a class act and one of the greatest high school women’s basketball players I’ve ever covered. She’s graceful, has a soft jumper and an array of lethal post moves that make her a tough cover for anyone.

Truly a great ambassador for Houston hoops, and a sure sign that the city’s basketballers don’t just stop at the men. Ogwumike and Brittney Griner, among others, are waking up a lot of people this season.

Coming soon: NCAA to sell its soul

Consider me AGAINST the NCAA’s eventual decision to expand the Division I men’s basketball tournament to a field of 96.

Yes, count me as one of those who thinks this waters down the tournament and dilutes it completely. Consider me one of the, I’m sure, many who find it incredibly ironic that the NCAA is fixing something that isn’t even sniffing broken, also in light of a tournament that has amazed and wondered this year.

And don’t believe a single word you hear from the NCAA tools who want to tell you why this will be, and the good it will do.

Because if they say this is about anything but cash, they’re lying. Flat out, bold faced, lying.

Basically this is as how it will work: Those teams seeded 33-96 will play each other on a Thursday or Friday, and the winners will play 1-32 on Saturday or Sunday.

THEN, those winners will play the second round the following Tuesday or Wednesday before the Sweet 16 begins on Thursday or Friday.

As ESPN hoops guru writer Dana O’Neil put it in a brilliant column on the issue, that means Northern Iowa this year would have had to win three games in six days to advance to the Sweet 16.

The money is, and always will be, the apple of the NCAA’s eyes.  More games mean more money, more games means more use of buildings, which build more revenue, yada yada yada.

But there is fabric of the game that will be altered greatly, such as, as O’Neil writes, the fact that the “student”-athletes will be taking off a week from school, probably not returning to campus until they are eliminated due to the short time between games.

The tournament, as should be, will also lose its luster, as will the game. You’re going to have to really suck to not get into a tournament in which more than a quarter of Division I teams will qualify for.

Gone will be the clashing non-conference games to build RPI and status. If you’re Georgetown, why play Kentucky if all you have to do to get in is win your non-conference games (against what I assume will be much lighter opponents), and then have a decent showing in conference and through that tournament?

The game loses. That’s what this comes down to. It’s a pathetic money-grab by the NCAA. and the fans and players and coaches get punished for it.

It actually means something to make the tournament now. Of course there are always a few bubble teams, but, hey, that’s life. There’s a reason the tournament has a show strictly dedicated to the selection of teams.

But that intrigue and wonder gets lost too, with this whole 96 gimmick. Thirty-one teams will be added, if this plan goes through.

Who out there really thinks there were 31 deserving teams left out of this year’s tourney? Of course not.

What little hope I hold onto is that this is not yet official. It’s as close as close can get, but not official. It’s expected to not become official until – act shocked – the NCAA decides upon what to do with its television package (I’ll give you one guess as to what they’re seeking. Its color is green).

But this is just a remarkably ludicrous idea. A disgusting change to something that so blatantly obviously does not need to be changed.

But, hey, that’s the NCAA for ya.

Leave it to them to fix something that couldn’t be better.

Such madness

Cornell has become a darling in the NCAA Tournament madness.

Whelp, quite the first few days, no?

The NCAA Tournament hardly ever disappoints, and this year is already ahead of the standard fast and furious pace.

Gone are Kansas, the No. 1 overall seed, Villanova, Georgetown, Wisconsin.

Fortunately, I had Syracuse winning it all in my bracket, and I had Duke in the Final Four. But my other two Final Four participants – Kansas and Wisconsin – are no more.

It’s been an exhilarating ride. That’s what March Madness is, after all. It’s a shot to see the Davids tumble the Goliaths, and the no-names to stun the big-names.

If anything this tournament has showed so far is how much parody there is.

The clash of mid-majors vs. the majors? No longer relevant, not when the mid-majors have consistently showed that they’re not as far behind the pack as many think they are.

The UNIs, the Saint Mary’s’ … the tournament becomes a game of matchups, and great guard play wins tournament games. It’s getting tougher and tougher to finds solid teams who don’t have stellar perimeter play, and with the true, classic big man becoming an endangered species, that means the little men are taking over the game.

That only serves the “mid-majors” well. Guards are a dime a dozen.

Coaching is as even as it ever has been. There’s a few brilliant, legendary coaches right now, and everyone else is either above average or really above average.

Heck, Roy Williams – he of the two championship titles in the last five years – and his UNC team watched the Tourney from home.

Arizona watched from home as well.

The college basketball game is as wide open as it has ever been, and it will continue to be that way as long as the game’s elite players continue skipping off to the NBA after a year. And it has done this in spite of a system that favors the rich, i.e. the Kentuckys, Dukes, et cetera.

I am not a fan of the rumored tournament expansion to 96 teams. That’s way too many, and would completely dilute one of sports’ most treasured tournaments and time of the year.

But if more of the mid-majors are added, and not the grunge teams of the so-called power leagues like the Big 12, SEC, etc., then it might be worth looking at.

I personally think the field is fine as it is. But, without fail, during this time of the year, the mid-majors always make a loud case for more respect and attention to the “little ones.”

Recommended reading:

New York Times’ Pete Thamel: “More Northern Iowas, fewer Minnesotas” – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/22/sports/ncaabasketball/22thamel.html?src=twt&twt=nytimes

ESPN.com’s Gene Wojciechowski on parity in college hoops: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/tournament/2010/columns/story?id=5016957

Hoops heaven

Sometimes wandering the interwebs late at night can be quite beneficiary.

As I was doing just that a few minutes ago, I came across a site that would be considered nothing short of heaven for college hoops aficionados:

http://vault.ncaa.com/

There, you will find archived, legendary NCAA tournament games dating back to 2000. All the memorable games are accounted for, and you’ll find other goodies, too.

But it’s the games, of course, that make the site special.

For example, I’ve been watching the 2000 regional semi between Wisconsin and LSU. I’m a huge Badgers fan because of their style of play that’s predicated upon making the defense work, strong defensive play and a grind-it-out pace that keeps them in every game.

In fact, it took the strength of God for me to get away from the game for a bit to make this note.

Anyway, check it out. I promise you won’t be disappointed. That is, unless you consider your time precious.

Touting TAMIU

A quick shout out to the Texas A&M International men’s basketball team.

The Dustdevils clinched the first NCAA conference postseason tournament berth last weekend. The program has not had a winning season in seven years, and this year, under first-year head coach Shane Rinner, it clinched a playoff tourney spot in just its second year of Heartland Conference play.

If you like smart, defensive-minded basketball, the Dustdevils are your team.

Congrats, fellas.