by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

By past standards, we’re not sure the just-completed NCAA Tournament ranks among the best ever. While the action was often tense, the thrill meter didn’t quite register in this version of the Big Dance as it has in many past years. Not many buzzer beaters or memorable finishes. No Cinderella stories to warm the heart with mid-majors crashing the Final Four (as had happened four times in the previous five years).

What we did like was the heightened competitiveness of the sub-regional phase, especially the now-called “second round” of games when the tourney was at 64 teams. Watching a pair of 15 seeds, North Carolina A&T (over Missouri) and Lehigh (over Duke) score wins within hours of one another on the Friday, March 16 was a real treat. UNC-Asheville had earlier threatened to become the first-ever 16 seed to beat a 1 seed when pushing heavily-favored Syracuse to the limit. Eventually, however, there were only a handful of upset results, as form mostly held all of the way to the end, when overall top seed Kentucky claimed the crown.

We can also once again thank goodness that college hoops decides its champion via the tourney format, and not the wholly-unsatisfying way that it is done via the BCS in college football. By the way, can anyone tell us what happened in the most-recent Beef O‘Brady’s or Famous Idaho Potato Bowls? Or the Ticket City Classic? Even the once-hallowed Orange Bowl? Although sources tell us that the days of the BCS as we have known it might be ending soon, as a switch in sentiment by the Big Ten had made a change in the way champions are decided on the gridiron now a real possibility in the very near future. Stay tuned for further developments, which we will comment upon on our website throughout the spring and summer months as warranted.

And those developments could yet make an impact in college hoops as well, especially regarding some of conference-shifting which is ready to resume full-speed next season. Sources tell us the possible switch to a college football playoff could change some of the conference dynamics, especially regarding the Big East, which might be shut out of a guaranteed spot in such an arrangement. If so, future TV contracts could be impacted, and insiders indicate that two of the schools slated make football-only jumps to league, Boise State and San Diego State, might yet stay put in the Mountain West, where both will continue to compete over the next academic year.

Of course, whatever changes in the BCS or football playoff format have come too late to salvage many of the traditional rivalries that have been temporarily severed by conference jumping that is mostly, no, make that wholly, motivated by football considerations. Texas A&M and Missouri bolt to the SEC next season, while West Virginia prepares for a move to the Big XII. And when Pitt and Syracuse make their moves to the ACC the following year, the Eastern alliance will be permanently fractured, a process that began decades ago when Penn State (at Joe Patreno's urging) refused to officially align itself with its old regional rivals, setting its sights instead on the Big Ten. The lack of a unified front in the East has been the most de-stabilizing factor in the college conference shuffle over the past decade, and we suggest those origins date to Penn State abandoning its long-time rivalries in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

The loss of Syracuse from what remains of Big East football is hardly as troubling a thought as the Orange abandoning the league for hoops, of which it has been an integral member since its outset. It is these sorts of football-motivated moves that we find most disconcerting. And we suspect the forces of change will continue to the point where the major football powers could break away from the NCAA entirely and simply form their own union.

What bothers us is that all of these football-related conference moves, motivated mostly by the lack of a playoff system, are changing the wonderful dynamics that have existed in college hoops, too. It will be better late than never if the college football powers finally get into the playoff business, although we are afraid it will be too late to salvage some of those rivalries (Texas-Texas A&M, Kansas-Missouri, Syracuse-Georgetown hoops, etc.) that have been part of the fabric of the college sports experience we have come to love over the years.

No matter, it’s time to get down to business and begin to reward some of the accomplishments of the just-completed college hoops campaign with our annual installment of “Superlatives” for the 2011-12 campaign. Next week, we’ll complete our review of the season with our comprehensive “All-Newcomer” team.


THOMAS ROBINSON, 6-10 Jr., Kansas
DOUG McDERMOTT, 6-7 Soph., Creighton
DRAYMOND GREEN, 6-8 Sr., Michigan State
KEVIN JONES, 6-8 Sr., West Virginia
ANTHONY DAVIS, 6-10 Frosh., Kentucky
TYLER ZELLER, 7-0 Sr., North Carolina
JAE CROWDER, 6-6 Sr., Marquette
ISAIAH CANAAN, 6-0 Jr., Murray State
JOHN JENKINS, 6-4 Jr., Vanderbilt
KENDALL MARSHALL, 6-4 Soph, North Carolina

TGS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Anthony Davis, Kentucky...Anyone who has ever played the game knows how distorting a great defensive force can be, especially one who blocks shots and alters countless others. In that regard, Kentucky’s frosh star Davis had perhaps the greatest impact on the college game since Patrick Ewing’s days at Georgetown in the early ‘80s. While John Calipari’s latest crop of frosh stars blended with a few key returnees to win the national title for the Wildcats, many knowledgeable observers have suggested to us that the one indispensable element on the Kentucky roster was Davis, without whom the Cats would likely not have won the title and could have perhaps lost several more games than the mere two that they suffered this season. Davis simply closed off the rim on the stop end and effectively cordoned off the paint, blocking an NCAA frosh record 186 shots in the process and likely altering several times that many attempts from the floor. Davis is also a late-bloomer who played as a 6-2 guard in high school before shooting up eight inches over the past few years. By learning the game from a different perspective, he’s developed an uncanny sense (for a big man) of the entire court, not just the paint, which has helped his anticipation of how opponents might try to attack him and his teammates. Moreover, he’s unselfish and apparently very coachable (and no reason not to believe Calipari on the latter). Davis, who appears to us to be one of the most unique “bigs” of the last generation, also looks to be a sure-fire top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft if he decides to enter, which most expect him to do.

Runner-up: Thomas Robinson, Kansas...Were we to hand out this MVP award up until mid-February, we might have given it to Robinson, whose emergence as a multi-dimensional threat in the post keyed a charge by Bill Self’s rebuilt Jayhawks into the national title game. Robinson, with just a handful of starts entering this season, scored 17.7 ppg and grabbed 11.9 rpg, ranking second nationally in the latter. Expect him to have a long and prosperous career in the NBA, where most believe we will next be seeing him perform (unanimous opinion from Big XII sources is that Robinson, who has another year of eligibility at Kansas if he wants to use it, opts for the June Draft).

TGS COACH OF THE YEAR: Rick Pitino, Louisville...Among all of the successes of Pitino’s career, including guiding an unheralded Providence team (with a G named Billy Donovan) to the Final Four in 1987, and winning a national title at Kentucky nine years later, we don’t think he ever did a job as good as this season when steering the Cards to an unlikely Final Four berth. This with a team that was prone to extended droughts on the attack end, had suspect depth, and several one-dimensional players. But no squad played defense any harder than Pitino’s Cardinals, who reached the Final Four after locking down on Florida’s perimeter weapons and wiping out an 11-point Gator lead in the last eight minutes of an Elite Eight matchup in Phoenix. The ‘Ville even had one fightback left in it at the Final Four, rallying from a double-digit deficit to level the score vs. favored and more-talented Kentucky deep into the second half at New Orleans. Pitino had the Wildcats on the ropes, but the lack of refined scoring elements on the frontline prevented the Cards from scoring the upset. It was a helluva try, however, and completed a dramatic personal comeback by Pitino, rocked by scandal three years ago. Pitino is back and so are the Cardinals.

Runner-up: John Calipari, Kentucky...Sometimes we agree with Bob Knight, who is said to loathe Calipari because of the “c” word (the one that has five letters and ends with a “t” with “h” and “e” and “a” in between) to the extent that The General doesn’t even like to say “Kentucky” in interviews. We are not especially fond of self-promoters and egotists ourselves, especially ones whose past teams not once, but twice, have been forced to vacate their Final Four appearances. Or ones with close ties to William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley, whose influence on the recruiting trail is well-known (“Worldwide” has even wrangled himself a consultancy job at Nike; he’s not on Bob Knight’s Christmas card list, either). But Coach Cal is hardly the only objectionable character in the college sports business, and these days he’s almost a refreshing alternative, admitting his modus operandi is to prepare his players for the NBA, and if they’re ready to go pro after a year in his system, so be it. Calipari long ago proved to be a superior college coach, creating teams that play together at every stop in his college career at UMass and Memphis and now Kentucky. He finally has a long-awaited national title to show for his efforts. The latest creation was Coach Cal’s best, seamlessly weaving a cohesive and selfless unit out of a collection of five-star recruits and McDonald’s All-Americans. Calipari had a lot to work with this season, but it was a masterpiece nonetheless. Now, how long does he stay at Lexington?

Honorable mention (in no particular order): Bill Self, Kansas; Tom Crean, Indiana; Mike Brey, Notre Dame; Bruiser Flint, Drexel; Leonard Hamilton, Florida State; Stan Heath, South Florida; Tony Bennett, Virginia; Rick Majerus, Saint Louis; Mick Cronin, Cincinnati; Bob Hoffman, Mercer; Andy Toole, Robert Morris; Mark Schmidt, St. Bonaventure; Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook; Derek Kellogg, UMass; Frank Haith, Missouri; Johnny Dawkins, Stanford; Larry Shyatt, Wyoming; Tom Izzo, Michigan State; Buzz Williams, Marquette; Monte Ross, Delaware; Steve Alford, New Mexico; Don Verlin, Idaho; Rick Byrd, Belmont; Ray McCallum, Detroit; John Becker, Vermont; Shaka Smart, Virginia Commonwealth; Steve Prohm, Murray State; David Carter, Nevada; Tim Miles, Colorado State; Anthony Evans, Norfolk State; Mark Few, Gonzaga; Wayne Tinkle, Montana; Ray Harper, Western Kentucky; Jimmy Patsos, Loyola-Maryland; Michael White, La Tech; Scott Sutton, Oral Roberts; John Thompson III, Georgetown; Billy Donovan, Florida; Bob McKillop, Davidson; Steve Fisher, San Diego State; Max Good, Loyola-Marymount; Jerome Allen, Penn; Mark Gottfried, NC State; Marvin Menzies, New Mexico State; John Beilein, Michigan; Scott Cross, UT-Arlington; Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s; Frank Martin, Kansas State; Bryce Drew, Valparaiso; Tim Jankovich, Illinois State; Dave Paulsen, Bucknell; Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee; Greg McDermott, Creighton; John Groce, Ohio; Dan Monson, Long Beach State; Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State; Pat Knight, Lamar; Rob Murphy, Eastern Michigan; Tad Boyle, Colorado; Rod Barnes, CS Bakersfield; Brett Reed, Lehigh; Jim Boeheim, Syracuse; Dave Rose, BYU; Gary Waters, Cleveland State; Bo Ryan, Wisconsin; Scott Nagy, South Dakota State; Larry Eustachy, Southern Miss; Thad Matta, Ohio State; Eddie Biedenbach, UNC-Asheville; Cuonzo Martin, Tennessee.


An underrated category that we at TGS believe warrants extra attention. Which is why we have bloated our honor list to three full team’s worth of top-notch defenders.

ANTHONY DAVIS, 6-10 Frosh, Kentucky
JOHN HENSON, 6-11 Jr., North Carolina
FAB MELO, 7-0 Soph, Syracuse
JEFF WITHEY, 7-0 Jr., Kansas
C.J. AIKEN, 6-9 Soph, St. Joseph’s
FUQUAN EDWIN, 6-6 Soph, Seton Hall
BERNARD JAMES, 6-10 Sr., Florida State
PIERCE HORNUNG, 6-5 Jr., Colorado State
QUINCY ACY, 6-7 Sr., Baylor
KENT BAZEMORE, 6-5 Sr., Old Dominion
JERRY EVANS, 6-9 Soph, Nevada
LARRY ANDERSON, 6-5 Sr., Long Beach State
JORDAIR JETT, 6-1 Soph, Saint Louis
AARON CRAFT, 6-2 Soph, Ohio State

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Anthony Davis, Kentucky...See Player of the Year notes above.


Another overlooked collection that we at TGS also believe warrants some extra attention, hence another expanded grouping.

ISAIAH CANAAN, 6-0 Jr., Murray State
CHARLES HINKLE, 6-5 Sr., American
T.J. McCOLLUM, 6-3 Jr., Lehigh
REGGIE HAMILTON, 5-11 Sr., Oakland
DAMIEN LILLARD, 6-3 Jr., Weber State
DEVON SADDLER, 6-2 Soph, Delaware
DEONTE BURTON 6-1 Soph, Nevada
KYLE O’QUINN, 6-10 Sr., Norfolk State
DOUG McDERMOTT, 6-7 Soph, Creighton
WENDELL McKINES, 6-6 Sr., New Mexico State
ANDREW NICHOLSON, 6-9 Sr., St. Bonaventure
ROBERT COVINGTON, 6-9 Jr., Tennessee State
MATTHEW DELLAVEDOVA, 6-4 Jr., Saint Mary’s
CASPER WARE, 5-10 Sr., Long Beach State

MID-MAJOR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Doug McDermott, Creighton...McDermott (23 ppg) does the “double” this season by also making it into our All-American team. Almost machine-like on the offensive end with a wide repertoire of shots, hitting better than 61% from the floor and almost 50% beyond the arc. Perhaps the most-refined offensive weapon in the country with his ability to work on the blocks, while also fire away accurately from intermediate and long range. Carried the Bluejays to the Missouri Valley Conference crown and the third round of the Big Dance before losing honorably to North Carolina.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Indiana 73, Kentucky 72 at Bloomington (December 10)...For a long while this looked as if it might be UK’s only loss of the season, delivered in dramatic fashion when the Hoosiers’ Christian Watford nailed a triple from the left wing at the buzzer. This white-knuckler went back-and-forth over the final ten minutes after the Cats had rallied from a deficit vs. the hot-shooting hosts. The ending was as dramatic as possible (indeed, the stamped to the court by IU fans almost trampled ESPN’s courtside annoucners Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale), but the real significance of this result was a conformation of a return to relevance by IU, which had been off of the national radar the past few years after the Kelvin Sampson scandal and Tom Crean’s difficult first three years on the job. The game was also a national coming-out party for IU frosh C Cody Zeller, who outplayed ballyhooed Kentucky counterpart Anthony Davis. Some are already penciling in IU as the team to beat nationally next season if Zeller decides to return for his sophomore campaign (which the majority of Big Ten sources believe he will do).

DISAPPOINTING TEAM OF THE SEASON: Pittsburgh...Plenty of candidates, mostly from the Big East. Cases can also be made for UConn and Villanova. But we opt for the Panthers, a consensus Top Ten team when the season commenced. Instead, Pitt limped home at 5-13 in the Big East, a non-factor all season in the loop, with touted G Ashton Gibbs proving one of the false alarms of the campaign. The Panthers were not helped by a midseason injury to G Tray Woodall that kept him sidelined for over a month, but Jamie Dixon’s frontline production was also inconsistent and never established itself as a physical force as it has so often done in the past. The Panthers partially redeemed themselves by claiming the CBI title (vs. modest opposition) in the postseason, but we don’t think any team was further from its expected Big Dance goal than were the Panthers this season.

(Dis)honorable mention: UConn, Arizona, Memphis, UCLA, Villanova.

MURPHY’S LAW TEAM OF THE YEAR: Southern Cal...If the Trojans didn’t have bad luck this season, they wouldn’t have had any luck at all. Entering the campaign somewhat thin of scoring options, Kevin O’Neill’s side was dealt a harsh preseason blow when top returning scorer G Jio Fontan went down with season-ending knee injury prior to the first game. Further depleted with scoring options, O’Neill subsequently lost 6-6 Iowa transfer PF Aaron Fuller in January and emerging 7-foot juco Dewayne Dedmon to injury after New Year’s. The result was an unsightly mess, with the Trojans limping to their worst conference mark (1-17) since the low point of Bob Boyd’s long-ago career at Troy when recording an 0-14 mark in the old Pac-8 during the 1975-76 campaign. The Trojans didn’t score more than 58 points in any of their last ten games and were held to 50 points or fewer a staggering 14 times, prompting some local scribes to wonder if SC ought to hang the old peach baskets instead of the glass backboards in their fancy Galen Center digs.

POINTSPREAD CHAMP: New Mexico (23-8). Other spread champs...North Texas 18-8, Akron 19-9, Michigan State 23-13, UA-Little Rock 1-9, la Salle 17-9, Dartmouth 13-7, St. Bonaventure 20-11.

POINTSPREAD CHUMP: Texas Tech (7-20). Other spread chumps...Southern Cal 9-22, Arizona State 9-21, George Washington 9-20, Santa Clara 9-18, Ball State 8-17, Clemson 9-17, Nebraska 9-17, Rutgers 9-17.

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