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College Basketball Talk Top 25: Is Baylor really the No. 1 team in the country?

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After a weekend where the only ranked teams to lose were either playing on the road against another – favored – ranked team or No. 25 USC, there is only going to be so much movement when the top 25 polls come out this week. There will, however, likely end up being movement at the top, as Villanova lost on the road to Butler on Wednesday, the first loss the Wildcats have suffered this season.

And when the polls do come out, don’t be surprised when Baylor ends up being the No. 1 team in the country. They were No. 2 in the AP Poll last week, the only team other than Villanova to receive a first-place vote, but does that mean Baylor is the best team in the country?

In other words, if you’re a voter and you rank Baylor in the top spot, what you’re essentially saying is that you believe the Bears are better than Kansas, a team that hasn’t lost since falling in the season-opener to Indiana in overtime and has won the Big 12 regular season title for 12 years running. There are eighth-graders that were not alive the last time the Jayhawks did not win at least a share of the league title.

But that’s not the way that the polls work these days. I have a theory about why that is and his name is Gary Parrish. Parrish is a columnist and TV analyst for CBS Sports and, in the last five years or so, he’s been writing a popular column every Monday titled “Poll Attacks”. In this column, he publicly shames anyone that does something dumb on their ballot. You want to avoid getting embarrassed on the internet by a nationally-respected writer that literally ranks the top 25 teams in the country every morning when he wakes up, put some effort into you poll.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBCSports Top 25

And I’m with this. I think it’s brilliant. Rankings don’t mean anything – literally zero, and I’ll get to that – but if you’re going to be one of the 65 AP writers that has a vote in this poll, you should at least be paying enough attention to the sport that you don’t blindly vote every Sunday night half-drunk from watching football all day.

But here’s the catch: Parrish doesn’t let opinion seep into his rankings. His method for ranking teams is logic and results-based – teams that have accomplished the most should be ranked the highest, with head-to-head results being given significant weight – which means that has become the norm.

So the by-product of this trend is that opinion has more or less been taken out of the polls. “It’s definitely getting harder,” Parrish told me last week of the effort it takes for him to find a ballot to expose. “I can still find somebody every week, but it’s harder than it used to be.” And he agrees, the Poll Attacks play a major role in that.

Which brings me back to Baylor.

They’ve certainly earned a No. 1 ranking. Their body of work is as impressive as anyone’s. They’ve beaten Louisville and Michigan State and VCU and Oregon (by 17!) and Xavier (by 15!). They’re 3-0 in the Big 12. They’re 15-0 on the season, one of just two teams without a loss to their name. If you are so inclined to rank them first, that’s totally justified. I’m not going to call you an idiot for it.

But you’ll have a hard time convincing me that every person that slots Baylor at the top of their rankings will believe that Baylor is the best team in the country, better than all of Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, UCLA, North Carolina, West Virginia, Louisville, Gonzaga, etc.

Which brings us back to an issue that will always be argued about: What is the criteria for ranking teams? Their body of work, or who you actually believe to be the better team?

My take: since these rankings, these polls, mean absolutely nothing beyond the little number you see next to their name on TV, what’s the point of ranking based on the body of work? That’s what Bracketology is for. That’s what those seeding projections are for. That’s what the computer rankings of sites like KenPom and KPI and Sagarin do.

The polls?

That should be for gauging what public opinion is of the top teams in the country, because weird results happen in college basketball all the time and the value of home-court advantage is never factored into the equation enough.

And if your basis for determining who the best team is is strictly results-oriented, are you really going to drop Villanova for losing on the road to a team with a top ten résumé (Butler) on a night when the consensus National Player of the Year favorite shoots 3-for-11 when Baylor beat Iowa State and Oklahoma State at home by a combined six points?

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1. Villanova (15-1, Last Week No. 1)
2. Kentucky (13-2, 4)
3. UCLA (16-1, 2)
4. Kansas (14-1, 3)
5. Baylor (15-0, 7)
6. Gonzaga (15-0, 6)
7. Duke (14-2, 5)
8. Florida State (15-1, 14)
9. Oregon (15-2, 10)
10. North Carolina (14-3, 12)
11. West Virginia (13-2, 11)
12. Louisville (13-3, 9)
13. Creighton (15-1, 13)
14. Purdue (14-3, 21)
15. Wisconsin (13-3, 8)
16. Butler (14-2, 20)
17. Xavier (13-2, 16)
18. Saint Mary’s (14-1, 17)
19. Arizona (16-2, 18)
20. Notre Dame (14-2, 23)
21. Cincinnati (15-2, 19)
22. Virginia (12-3, 15)
23. Florida (12-3, NR)
24. Minnesota (15-2, NR)
25. South Carolina

DROPPED OUT: No. 22 Virginia Tech, No. 24 USC, No. 25 Indiana
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 Florida, No. 24 Minnesota, No. 25

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.