'Bag: On UConn, Cronin and Colorado

Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.)

Per the usual, we begin with a video. Remember: For the rest of the 2012 season, Hoopsbag will run on Tuesdays. Adjust your correspondence accordingly.

@c_watson writes: Now that that's over -- just 83 days until One Shining Moment.

Eamonn Brennan: Thank goodness, right? Don't get me wrong: I don't dislike college football. It's not in my top four sports viewing experiences -- which, in order, are college hoops, the NBA, European soccer and the NFL -- but if it's on, I'll watch it. And I was as geeked out for last night's national title game as anyone else. But college football's season has always baffled me, and it continues to do so. There's the whole bowl/playoff dynamic, which sort of speaks for itself, of course, but even so I will never understand the logic of finishing the regular season on Dec. 3, the date of the SEC title game, but playing the championship game on Jan. 9. Jan. 9! Is there another sport in the world that waits that long between its penultimate game and its championship final? Throw in the usual complaints about the way the sport crowns that national champion ... and, well, let's just say I'm happy we can all focus entirely on college hoops. Not that I wasn't already.

@RookTakesPwn writes: I'd rather watch the Butler-UConn game again.

Brennan: Ouch.

Now that I think about it, there are some parallels there -- particularly the athleticism and defensive prowess shared by Alabama and Connecticut. Both just overwhelmed their opponent on that side of the ball. Two of the greatest defensive performances in college sports history; two of the uglier national title games in recent memory.

Steve in Philly writes: I assume you've been in your fair share of news conferences. Have you ever seen a question like the first one Les Miles got last night? Did you see this? Dude basically called him out like it was his coach's show. It was amazing.

Brennan: At the risk of turning this into a college football Hoopsbag, no, I have never seen a question in a postgame news conference -- let alone a packed crazy-house press situation like the national title game or Final Four always is -- like the very first question Miles received after the game last night. It came from local radio host and former Saints quarterback (and father of LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert) Bobby Hebert, and apparently this is just his style. From the transcript:

Coach, did you ever consider bringing in Jarrett Lee, considering that you weren't taking any chances on the field? Now, I know Alabama's defense is dominant. But, come on, that's ridiculous, five first downs. I mean, so it's almost an approach, I'll tell from you the fans' standpoint, that how can you not maybe push the ball down the field and bring in Jarrett Lee? So what if you get a pick six. It seems like the game plan that ‑‑ not pushing the ball down the field, considering it's like a Rueben Randle or Odell Beckham, Jr. I know the pass rush of Alabama, but there's no reason why in five first downs ‑‑ you have a great defense, LSU is a great defense, but that's ridiculous.

It's basically a call you'd hear on a radio show, except it happened face-to-face in a massive news conference just minutes after the national championship. I suppose you have to admire the bravado. Given the situation, I also thought Miles handled it about as well as possible.

Anyway, we need to get Hebert to the NCAA tournament this season, if only so he can "ask" a similar "question" of Jim Calhoun. I think we know how that would end.

OK, enough of this. Let's talk hoops.

@MetsUconn16 writes: Is something seriously wrong with Shabazz Napier? Alarming comments Sunday, scoreless yesterday. What's up with No. 13?

Brennan: Fortunately for the Huskies, they got out of some serious second-half trouble against West Virginia Monday night, going on a post-Calhoun-technical 17-3 run and overcoming a 10-point second half deficit just in the nick of time. Had the Huskies dropped their third straight game -- this one at home, no less -- the whole "guys don't let me lead" thing from Napier could have really blown up. It would have been a mess.

But here's why I wouldn't be worried about Napier: He wants to lead. He wants to do the right thing by his teammates. He wants to succeed. He didn't shoot the ball well Monday night -- he was 0-of-6 and finished with zero points -- but he did have eight assists in the win. He's a point guard on a team with a ton of scoring talent in Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond; Napier doesn't have to score for this team to win.

I would be far more worried if Napier were checking out entirely, if it looked like the frustration of unrequited leadership was turning him to apathy. That doesn't seem to be the case. UConn has its share of issues to deal with, but Napier's attitude is as much a positive for me as a negative. Leading a group this talented isn't as easy as saying "Hey, guys, I'm the leader now, and that's that" -- but at least Napier wants the job. That's half the battle, right?

@kpotter30 writes: Where is Duke missing the boat at right now? And is there someone on the team that can fix its problems?

Brennan: The Blue Devils have their fair share of issues on offense, where they've struggled to create good shots from time to time. But the real issue is defense. As of Tuesday, Duke ranks No. 4 in the nation in Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency metric and No. 50 in adjusted defense. The lowest the Blue Devils have ever finished in adjusted defense since Pomeroy began tracking this stuff in 2004 is No. 20 overall.

Forget the occasional stagnant offense; this is still, all things considered, a very good offensive team. But if the 2012 Dukies don't significantly improve on the defensive end -- if they don't play defense the way most Duke teams do -- then their ceiling is going to be much lower this season than most.

@ThatPipkensGuy writes: What things (if any) in the universe are less predictable than the 2012 Atlantic 10?

Brennan: Let's make a list:

  • The NCAA tournament

  • The Pac-12, maybe

  • The economy

  • Bradford Cox's musical output

  • My jump shot

I'm reaching on a lot of those. (My jumper is usually pretty good. Usually.) Which is to say, your point is well-taken. With Xavier apparently falling off a cliff, Temple is not quite at an elite level and interesting, emerging teams like Saint Louis, Dayton, St. Joe's and even La Salle and Charlotte (which beat St. Joe's Saturday, mind you), the A-10 appears to be as deep, or at least as wide open, as we've seen it in the past 10 years. Maybe longer.

@hoopthink writes: Is Mick Cronin frontrunner for Big East Coach of the Year? What a job he's done since the Cintas brawl -- gritty road W last night.

Brennan: I can't disagree with the latter -- last night's win at Georgetown, which required a late 16-6 run and five forced turnovers against a team that was shooting lights-out whenever it held the ball long enough to get a look, was as impressive a road win as we've seen this season. Since the Xavier-Cincinnati brawl, X has tanked. But Cincinnati has won eight of its last nine, earned a 3-1 start in Big East play and begun to play with the sort of competency that had caused so many pundits to rank them in the Top 25 to start the season. After a dreary start and the mess that was the brawl, the Bearcats are sitting pretty as of Jan. 10. Points granted, all around.

Having said that ... I'm still hung up on the way the brawl was handled. Frankly, those suspensions weren't long enough, particularly for Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj, both of whom should have missed more Big East games. The Mbodj thing is less glaring, because he's a role player. But Gates only missed six games, and those six games -- Wright State, Radford, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Chicago State, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh -- hardly conveyed the same punitive attitude Cronin displayed in his well-received post-brawl comments to the media. Maybe I should get over that, but I thought Cronin -- who handled everything as well as possible, with the exception of the suspensions -- could have sent a clearer, realer message after the fight. But that's just me.

Pete in Los Angeles writes: I think you're dead on when you write that the Pac-12 is completely up for grabs. But as someone that has watched almost every Colorado basketball game this year, for better and worse, I wanted to tell you what I'm seeing. This team I'm watching now is completely different from the team I saw early in the year. Early in the year they were lost, the offense was stagnant and they seemed confused as they learned how to play with each other. It's understandable considering CU lost four of it's five starters from last year (two players now playing in the NBA). They have three freshmen logging significant minutes and three other rotation players playing their first season for Boyle after transferring. With so much turnaround it just took some time.

Now this team is jelling. Carlon Brown has taken the leadership role, Andre Roberson continues to prove he's one of the best rebounders in the nation, Spencer Dinwiddie and Aski Booker (their two freshmen guards) are playing with a ton of confidence, and Boyle has got them all playing swarming defense. I know it's easy to look at their play earlier on and dismiss them, but watch them play. They're really good, and that Washington win was no fluke.

Brennan: This email came in before Monday, when I ranked Colorado No. 3 in the Pac-12 power rankings. I will retain my doubts on whether the Buffaloes are "really good" -- that's just way too strong a term right now. Improved? Sure. Really good? Let's give it a week or two and see where Colorado is at that point. The Pac-12 is just too weird to get too excited about a 3-0 team that hasn't played a conference game on the road yet. If the Buffs go to Cal (Thursday) or Stanford (Saturday) and come away with a road split, I'll be more inclined to believe. (Or, if you prefer, #Buffalieve. You're welcome, Colorado hoops fans. OK, let's just move on.)

And now, the two best (read: worst) emails I received all week:

Jon in Denver writes: I have a feeling that you grew up in a family that had a younger sister that was much more in the spotlight than you. Always recieving praise and attention, while you sat in the corner holding your 4th place spelling bee trophy. Your ability to up sell the favorite and down play the underdog is amazing. But if that underdog flourishes, you seem to become hard pressed to give credit where credit is due. I know it is hard to imagine that maybe your initial assessment was wrong, but step back for a moment and rehash your previous opinion. The PAC-12 is young across the board and that may play into how some teams performed in the early going. Instead of writing off what you simply believe can't be, allow others to enjoy their success and the possibilty of more too come. Quit pouting about not being lauded for your previous predictions and give credit to the up coming players and coaches. Pretty weak on your behalf and I bet your sister writes for the New York Times as a hobby. Congrats.

Brennan: I have no idea what most of this means, but I'd just like to clarify one thing: I don't have a sister that works for the New York Times, whether as a hobby or as a profession, because I don't have a younger sister. But I was a pretty killer spelling bee contestant. Fourth place? Pshh.

That's only the email of the week runner-up, though. Ladies and gentlemen, your winner:

Unsigned writes: why are you so stuiped

Brennan: If I was the kind of person that wrote "smh," this is where I would write "smh."