What IF?

Last week, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament had upset upon upset upon upset. After 136 games in tournament history, a 16th seeded team FINALLY defeated a number 1 seeded team.  Never in history had this happened. The record going into last week was #1 seed (135-0) against #16 seed teams.  University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) embarrassed the Virginia defeating them 74 to 54.  A 20 point beatdown.  No last second three pointer at the buzzer.  No last second free throws granted by a bad referee call.  No star player from Virginia getting injured during the game.  None of that.  Good old fashioned woodshed whupping, in front of the world.  Cemented in history forever is UMBC.

 

UMBC’s victory was the biggest upset of the tournament, but far from being the only upset this season.  16 teams remain from the field of 68.  Those teams are #11 Loyola-Chicago, #11 Syracuse, #9 Florida State, #9 Kansas State, #7 Texas A&M, #7 Nevada, #5 West Virginia, #5 Clemson, #5 Kentucky, #4 Gonzaga, #3 Michigan, #3 Texas Tech, #2 Purdue, #2 Duke, #1 Villanova, #1 Kansas.  If the tournament played out according to plan, 9 of the 16 remaining teams would not be playing in the Sweet 16.  Historically dominant schools are having to work harder than ever to bring in top level guys.  Over the years, assistant coaches from powerhouse schools have become head coaches at traditionally lower level schools.  These coaches are recruiting top level players using their knowledge of bigger schools against them.  No longer MUST you go to Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State, etc to be seen by NBA scouts.    Winning makes everyone take notice.  UMBC’s twitter followers went from 5,000 to 40,000 following the historic win.    Social media connects people in many ways now.

 

After the recent upsets in the NCAA men’s tournament, I took the time to ponder something.  What if top level Mississippi men’s basketball players went to a school like Jackson State University instead of Mississippi State, Kansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, or Duke?  Arguments can be made that players going to Mississippi State, have fared just as well as other Mississippi schools.  2009 was the last season that Mississippi State’s men made it into the NCAA tournament.  Mississippi Valley State University, in 2012, was the last time a men’s team from Mississippi to make it into the NCAA tournament.  Top high school boys basketball players continuing their career in Mississippi tend to gravitate towards Mississippi State.  However, two players have transferred out of MSU, sat an entire season, and had impactful junior seasons at their new schools.  Rodney Hood transferred to Duke in 2012, sat out 2013, had a breakout 2014 junior season with Duke, prompting him to enter the NBA draft.  Hood was selected in the first round by the Utah Jazz.  Hood was traded last month to Cleveland.  Malik Newman transferred to Kansas in 2016.  He sat out the 2017 season and is having a good junior season.  Kansas is a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament with Newman being one of their main players capturing MVP of the Big 12 tourament a couple of weeks ago.  Players transfer in and out of schools is no shock and mentioning the Hood and Newman transferring is no knock on Mississippi State basketball.  They played for 2 different coaches, the “fit” just wasn’t right.

My point is this, what if, Malik Newman, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Devin Booker, Nick Weatherspoon, Wesley Harris, Maurice Dunlap, and other dandy dozen players from the past 4 years met up at a school like Jackson State?  And this team, which would be a #16 seed because of the way the SWAC is viewed, knocked off a #1 seed, how would that help them all?  How would it help the school?  That makes it easy for the next wave of top players to choose the same school.  UMBC received Steph Curry’s new released shoe, have been doing countless interviews, and enjoying NATIONAL spotlight.  The spotlight is one of the main recruitment tools of big programs.  This tournament has shown winning makes things happen  no matter what seed you’ve been given.  Players make the best choices based on facts and feelings at that time.  Nothing is wrong with that.  Sometimes it’s just cool to ponder things.  Giving the changing culture of college basketball, do not be surprised if you see guys “team up” and sign together at a “small” school and makes some noise.  Texas southern, coached my Mike Davis, former head coach of Indiana University, has made the tournament 4 of the past 5 seasons.  Davis has gotten quality players to either transfer to or sign with Texas Southern.  Recently, they won their play in game in the NCAA tournament.  They lost their next game to Xavier, a #1 seed but have earned some respect winning the game before and staying relatively close to Xavier until they pulled away to win by 19.

Mississippi State men’s team under head coach Ben Howlin, won over 20 games this season with “Que” Weatherspoon, his brother Nick Weatherspoon, Xavien Stapelton, just to name a few bulldog players.  After beating Louisville 79 to 56, the bulldogs have advance to the Final Four of the NIT Tournament in New York City.

Kansas makes Final Four thanks to Malik Newman

Number 1 seeded Kansas joined the Final Four with their 85 to 81 overtime victory over Duke.  One of the best games of the year featured former Callaway high school standout Malik Newman looking like the Malik many Jackson basketball fans were accustomed to seeing.  Malik’s confidence has risen since the Big 12 tournament where he captured MVP.  He scored a career high 30 points in the Big 12 championship game sealing a number 1 seed for Kansas.   Newman delivered when Kansas needed him most.  Timely shot making frustrated the Blue Devils.  Duke’s 2-3 zone was designed to keep players from the middle and crowd perimeter shooters.  Malik’s continued moving off of screens, freeing himself to take shots.  “He was the best player here,” said Kansas Coach Bill Self.  Perhaps just as important as his points was his defense, especially on the last play of the game.  Senior Grayson Allen, guarded by Malik tried to cross him up and drive by him, Newman kept his hand out and stayed in front of him and contested Allen’s shot.  Hitting the rim in 5 places, the ball would not fall through the net.  Overtime!  In front of a national audience, Malik shined.  Literally scoring all 13 of Kansas’s overtime points in route to winning MVP once again.  Newman finished the game with 32 points.  2 years after transferring from Mississippi State, Malik has reached the Final Four.  Social media was buzzing about Malik Newman.  Especially those who saw him play in high school.  Facebook profile pics, statuses, shoutouts to Malik were seen up to 24 hours after the big win.  His fans were proud and happy.  Former coaches reached out to him on social media and of course shots of his dad surfaced too.  Malik has made is presence known nationally.  Now he is, 2 wins away from a National Championship.