My interest in college basketball began to wane when every conference in the nation decided to hold a conference tournament at the end of the regular season, with the winner of the conference tournament — not the regular-season champion — receiving the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
If all that mattered to the NCAA was March Madness, that’s when I would get interested.
When the NBA changed its rules to prevent high school seniors from going straight to the pros, thus creating the one-and-done era of college basketball, I became even less interested. If I wanted to go see self-centered basketball players who only wanted to go one-on-one I could go find an AAU game somewhere.
The NCAA almost reeled me back in this year. Then it cut the line. Now the regular season and conference tournaments don’t mean anything apparently.
USC failed to make the NCAA tournament this season despite posting a 23-11 record that was good enough for second place in one of the major conferences in the country and finished second in the conference tournament as well.
The Trojans rating percentage index (RPI) was 34, the highest number of any school not in the tournament. They had a good strength of schedule number, too, meaning they didn’t win 23 games by beating up on lousy non-conference opponents, although they did beat Cal State Fullerton by 42 points early in the season. (Cal State Fullerton won its conference tournament and will play in the NCAA tournament.)
The committee that picks the 68 tournament teams basically chose Arizona State over USC and based the decision on Arizona State’s perfect non-conference record of 12-0. That included wins over Kansas and Xavier, which are both No. 1 seeds in March Madness.
But once conference started, Arizona State was 8-10, with an RPI of 69. So what stats do these guys use to pick the tournament teams or do they sit in a back room and throw darts at a board with teams’ names on them. The first 34 that hit go to the tournament.
Coach Andy Enfield and his players were justifiably angry and disappointed at missing the NCAA Tournament and having to settle for the NIT Tournament. That’s probably why the Trojans played horribly in their NIT opener March 13 at the Galen Center, where it took two overtimes for the Trojans to subdue the University of North Carolina at Asheville, 103-98.
It didn’t help USC that their star big man, Chimezie Metu, decided not to play in the NIT and risk an injury that could hurt his draft status with the NBA in June.
Already missing 6-10 forward Bennie Boatwright due to an injury, the depleted Trojans relied on senior point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who scored 26 points and had 13 assists while playing 41 minutes. Westchester High product Elijah Stewart added 22 points and forward Nick Rakocevic scored 24 points and added 19 rebounds to lead the Trojans.
Their next stop in the NIT will be against Western Kentucky at 8:30 p.m. March 19 at the Galen Center.
BRUINS BOUNCED: USC wasn’t happy about being snubbed by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, but UCLA wasn’t far behind in its anger.
The Bruins were upset about being placed in one of four “first-round” games (they used to be called play-in games). Then the Bruins compounded the snub by performing poorly and being eliminated from the tournament before it had started for most teams.
The Bruins bowed out of the tournament meekly March 13, losing to St. Bonaventure, 65-58. St. Bonaventure had not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1970 when Bob Lanier was the Bonnies top player.
The loss brought an abrupt end to a season that started poorly when three freshmen were arrested for shoplifting during a season-opening trip to China. The resulting suspensions hurt the Bruins depth and, except for a win over Kentucky, the Bruins never exceeded expectations.
In the season finale, guard Aaron Holiday led the Bruins with 20 points while playing his normal 40 minutes. Unfortunately, Holiday was trying to do too much and turned the ball over 10 times.
Big man Tom Welsh never got into the offensive flow of the game. He grabbed 15 rebounds but scored only two points on one of five shooting.
Of course the Bruins’ early departure from the tournament brought out the fire Steve Alford talk.
UCLA basketball fans are worse than USC football fans. They want every coach to be the next John Wooden and when he isn’t, they want him gone.
Jim Harrick won a national title in 1995 and couldn’t please them. Steve Lavin won 20 games a season and went to the NCAA Tournament six straight years, but when he had a terrible season in 2003, he was gone.
Ben Howland went to three straight final fours at UCLA from 2006 to 2008, but Bruin fans turned on him, too. And now they are turning on Alford.
UCLA fans need to remember that no one besides John Wooden has ever coached 10 college champions in a 12-year period and that is never going to happen again.
Steve Alford has done a good job with the Bruins. This year would have been different had three players not been suspended for shoplifting in China. He already has a good recruiting class for next year.
There aren’t that many great coaches out there.
Ask Cal State Northridge and Pepperdine, who hired former UCLA assistants this week to lead their programs next year.
Northridge hired Mark Gottfried to replace former Inglewood High standout Reggie Theus. Pepperdine hired Compton native Lorenzo Romar to take over its program. Both were assistants under Harrick when UCLA won its last title.
Gottfried has coached at Murray State, Alabama and North Carolina State. Romar returns to Pepperdine, where he coached from 1996 to 1999, after stints at Saint Louis and University of Washington. He was an assistant at Arizona this past season.
PLAYOFF WATCH: If the playoffs started today, the Clippers would be the seventh seed in the NBA Western Conference. With 16 games left to play, the Clippers are only a game and a half out of fifth place and three and a half games out of third place.
They have three tough games coming up this week against Houston, Oklahoma City and Portland, after defeating Chicago, 112-106 in a sub-standard performance March 13 that was still good enough for a win.
Coach Doc Rivers has the injury-riddled Clippers playing well and they could be a tough playoff opponent for many of the teams ahead of them.
The Lakers are technically still in the playoff hunt, even though they are six and a half games behind the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs in the West. The Lakers are up to 31 wins now — four more than last year’s team — and are trying to add to that total and possibly reach the .500 mark.
They would have to finish the season by winning 10 of the last 15 games to reach .500, not an impossible task since they are 16-8 in their last 24 games.
MAKING A SPLASH: The new Los Angeles Football Club continues to make a splash in the Southern California sports scene. LAFC won its second game of the young season March 10, scoring a 5-1 victory over Real Salt Lake.
Diego Rossi was involved in all five goals, scoring two and assisting on the other three. It was only the sixth time in league history and the first time since 2008 that a player was involved in five goals in a game.
For his efforts, Rossi was chosen the Major League Soccer player of the week.
LAFC doesn’t play again until March 31 when it plays its first local game against the Los Angeles Galaxy at the StubHub Center in Carson.
The Galaxy has started the season at 1-1.