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Denny O'Brien has penned more than 230 Pirate Notebook columns since 2001, with a focus on ECU-related topics. Starting with this article, his weekly repertoire will also include a College Notebook column, which will take a broader look at college sports.

College Notebook No. 1
Tuesday, March 29, 2005

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

NBA proposal would boost college game


Imagine the Final Four with LeBron James as the headline act.  Basketball's biggest name on the college game's biggest stage.

It couldn't get much better than that.

While that will never happen, there's a chance that King James' heir could one day etch his name among the legends of March.  If the NBA institutes an age limit with its next collective bargaining agreement, that most definitely will be the case.

As a result, the college game will see its talent pool grow -- and its marketability explode.

The NCAA Tournament already is the nation's most intriguing sporting event.  It lasts nearly a month, includes more twists than a Hollywood thriller, and is perhaps most notable for its annual appearances by at least one unsuspecting Cinderella.

What it is beginning to lack, though, is a star-studded cast, and this year is no exception.

The leading men in St. Louis this weekend will sport coats and ties, not tank tops and shorts.  With Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, Bruce Weber, and Roy Williams attending the party, much of the attention will center around the men diagramming the plays, not the players charged with executing them.

That wasn't the case in 1979.  Or much of the 80s and early 90s.

Who can forget that epic battle between Magic and Bird?  How about those bad boys led by Patrick Ewing at Georgetown and Hakeem Olajuwon with his brothers from Phi Slamma Jamma?

This year we get Alan Anderson, Francisco Garcia, Sean May, and Deron Williams.  Hardly the same.

If the NBA approves an age limit for entering the draft, we could see more storybook runs like that Danny Manning-led group at Kansas.  And instead of one-and-done chapters from the likes of Carmelo Anthony, perhaps we can witness encore performances and repeat opportunities.

But it wouldn't come without side effects.

With an age limit, expect increased attrition.  Because many will enter college with no intention of graduating, there will be more early departures from the nation's power programs.

The result could be a more level playing field, as the next tier schools are able to develop experience and chemistry by targeting players who stay four years instead of two.

NBA commissioner David Stern's main objective with an age limit is to improve the pro game.  It just so happens that the domino effect may be felt most at the college level.

Committee favoring BCS leagues?

Paul Hewitt said it best.  Moments after Louisville ambushed Georgia Tech in the NCAA Tournament, the Yellow Jackets coach questioned the Cardinals' low seeding.

For good reason, too.

After finishing the regular season 29-4 and ranked fourth in both major polls, Louisville was hardly rewarded when it received a No. 4 seeding from the NCAA Tournament selection committee.  By comparison, Washington finished 27-5 overall and a No. 7 ranking in the coach's poll (No. 8 AP) -- and snared the Albuquerque Regional top seed.

Granted, the Huskies had a higher RPI and played a tougher schedule.  But the ease with which the Cardinals throttled Washington calls to question the committee's seeding methods.

The committee insists that the RPI is just one of many factors it takes into account when selecting and seeding teams.  How a team faired outside its league, its performance down the stretch, not to mention the overall health of a club's personnel are all taken into consideration.

If that's the case, why did Louisville get snubbed?

Truth is, the primary factors working against the Cardinals were their RPI (12) and SOS (55), much of which is out of their control.  Because C-USA was top-heavy and lacked the balance of some of its rival leagues, Louisville's strength of schedule was hurt by the bottom half of its league.

Here's another thought.

Conferences with automatic bids to the Bowl Championship Series in football typically have better television packages in hoops.  As a result, those schools receive more exposure and seemingly get preferential treatment from the national media.

No worries for the Cardinals, though.  They jump to the Big East next year. 

Living... and dying by the three

March is the month to dial long distance.  Teams that are most successful from outside their area code have a better shot at a deep NCAA tournament run.

Take West Virginia.  The Mountaineers made a surprising journey to the Elite Eight fueled by a lineup filled with long range gunners. 

The most notable bomber was perhaps the most improbable.  Mammoth  center Kevin Pittsnogle sank 13-of-23 from behind the arc in the tournament, including six-of-nine in a losing effort against Louisville in the Albuquerque Regional final.

Then there's Duke.  The Devils, arguably the nation's most dangerous three-point shooting team, never found their range and were ousted earlier than expected.

Junior sharpshooter J.J. Redick found the postseason rims especially unkind.  With defenses designed specifically to blanket him, the Duke marksman had little breathing room and sank only 25 percent of his three-point attempts as a result.

Which is why Louisville will be a difficult out in St. Louis.  With Taquan Dean, Larry O'Bannon, Francisco Garcia, Brandon Jenkins, and Juan Palacios, the Cardinals have a quintuplet of shooters capable of burying it from deep.

That will limit foes from keying on any particular player -- and keep plenty of options open.

Best of the Pack

Love him or hate him, Billy Packer is in a league of his own.  When it comes to game analysis, no color commentator can break down a game better than CBS's flagship analyst.

Packer's basketball knowledge and game preparation are unmatched by his rivals.  Where others enjoy the peripherals of the NCAA Tournament, Packer spends his evenings studying film and scouting reports, and it shows on gameday.

But perhaps what most separates Packer from his colleagues is his ability to eloquently critique a game and willingness to express his opinion without apology.

He was highly critical of Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo for not penetrating and dishing in the final seconds of the first overtime against Michigan State Sunday.  He later correctly called Kentucky's defensive set of a crucial inbounds play for the Spartans as if he signaled the play into Wildcats coach Tubby Smith.

To some Packer is viewed as negative and abrasive.  To others, he is a pawn who plays favorites and uses television as a platform to promote them.

None of the above applies. 

What does is Packer's no-bull approach to analyzing games.  That's why he gets top billing on CBS.   

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02/23/2007 01:59:40 AM

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