Friday, March 08, 2013

03/08 (Friday) Quickie

The story of the year in college basketball isn't the turmoil at the top of the rankings. It's not Gonzaga's rise to No. 1. It's not the revival of Indiana or the sublime individual skill of Georgetown's Otto Porter (or the freakishness of IU's Victor Oladipo).

The story of the year in college basketball is Kentucky -- the sport's defending champion -- going from the top of the sport to its dregs in less than a year.

John Calipari was supposed to have cracked the code -- a "Moneyball"-style arbitrage of the NBA's mandatory college year for top prep players, importing a new crop of future Lottery picks on an annually renewable basis, harnessing their talent as a sort of NBA finishing school.

Cal's pitch was brilliant in its simplicity: You've got to spend a year waiting for the NBA Draft -- if you spend it with me, you will play, you will get developed for the NBA and you will compete for a national championship.

But the arbitrage falls apart if Kentucky misses the NCAA Tournament entirely, which they are now on the verge of after choking at mediocre Georgia last night.

With a regular-season finale versus SEC regular-season champ Florida tomorrow at Rupp, UK -- in Calipari's own framing -- is in a win-or-bust situation.

(Needless to say, if there were any concerns about Florida being motivated, the opportunity to effectively end rival Kentucky's season an invalidate the Calipari Model should be enough.)

Granted, Kentucky has been missing Nerlens Noel for weeks -- he was only the No. 1 NBA talent in college hoops -- but they were struggling while he was out there, too.

And, granted, next season Kentucky has the best recruiting class since the Fab Five coming to Lexington. (This season's freshmen were highly touted, too, but not like the '13 prep class.)

The reality is that if Kentucky isn't going to compete for national championships, all Cal offers is playing time (he better hope this season's freshmen don't stick around trying to make good on this season's dud, clogging the pipeline for next season's imports) and a track record of sending players to the NBA. There are plenty of coaches who can deliver that.

The model should work, but like arbitrage on Wall Street, sometimes the model doesn't stand up to the reality of the market.


*Mariano Rivera to retire after '13 season: Only the greatest relief pitcher ever and, arguably, the greatest pitcher ever. Even Yankee-haters respect Rivera. More on this on Monday.

*Thunder hold off the Melo-less Knicks in NYC: Closest thing to a moral victory that the Knicks will get this season. (Meanwhile, is there a more confounding player in the NBA than JR Smith?)

*Tiger shoots co-leading 66 at Doral: All it does is set up "win or fail" expectations for the rest of the weekend.  (Beats the alternative, I guess.)

*Blackhawks Watch: At Colorado tonight (loss alert?!), hosting Edmonton on Sunday.

*Jadeveon Clowney takes out $5M insurance policy: Only $95M less than his ultimate market value in the event he blows out his knee next season like teammate Marcus Lattimore.

(Know what the best insurance policy is? Not playing college football and waiting for the 2014 NFL Draft -- like he wouldn't still be the No. 1 overall pick?)

*NFL: Dolphins lock up WR Brian Hartline -- he was Ryan Tannehill's binky, so it makes sense to keep him around. He's no game-breaker, but steady (and very productive last year). But they still need a game-breaker.

*Deals: Rockets lock up GM Daryl Morey through 2018. He is Houston's MVP and the best GM in the NBA.

*The non-Catholic Big East is the new "America 12": Reminds me of "Conference USA," one of the worst names in sports-branding history.

*Civics: Doesn't it feel like Atlanta just built the Georgia Dome?

*Weekend Viewing Guide: Syracuse at Georgetown (noon Saturday), the finale of one of college hoops' best rivalries. Still don't understand why they can't set up an annual non-conference match-up.

(This season, at least, Cuse-G'town is a bigger/better game than Duke at UNC, tomorrow night at 9. Yes, it's a great rivalry, but it lacks real stakes. So UNC loses? Still in the Tournament. So Duke loses? Maybe it makes UNC's season, but Duke still is positioned for a 1-seed if they win the ACC Tournament. It is the fundamental issue with college hoops rivalries in the regular season: There are no real consequences.)

But, occasionally, you get exceptions, like Florida at Kentucky tomorrow at noon -- bringing it back to what we were talking about at the top, the consequences of losing to a rival in the regular season couldn't be bigger for Calipari and the 'Cats.

-- D.S.

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