Head Coaching Talent a Final Four Indicator

The NCAA tournament field is packed with teams that look strong enough to reach the Final Four. Talent level—specifically NBA talent— is often the first attribute fans will look at when making their tournament picks. It is the reason that many brackets will feature Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker taking their teams far and also explains why many will have Wichita State going down early—potentially even to the NBA-prospect-loaded Kentucky Wildcats. Names that are often overlooked by fans, however, are those steering the ship for their teams: the head coaches.

Of the 56 Final Four teams since 2000, 32 were coached by one of these high-profile leaders: Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and Ben Howland. That is ten men responsible for leading 57 percent of the Final Four teams since the turn of this millennium.

Howland and Calhoun are no longer coaching, however, the other eight are all currently leading teams that are talented enough to make a run to the Final Four this season. This does not mean that four of these men are sure to reach the Final Four, but their team’s odds are certainly better given who is at the helm—and there is a chance that three of them will be coaching at AT&T Stadium in April (none of these coaches appear in the West region).

While this group of coaches may represent the best of the best, perhaps what is most telling about this statistic is the benefit of reaching a Final Four toward future success. Teams with experienced coaches tend to do better because these coaches know what it takes to make a run in the tournament.

Outside of the eight current coaches above, there are a handful of other team leaders who have made at least one Final Four and are a threat to do so again this season. Wichita State’s Greg Marshall leads a team that made a run to last season’s Final Four. Thad Matta will be seeking his third Final Four appearance with Ohio State since 2000. Shaka Smart led his VCU Rams to the Final Four in 2011. Villanova reached the semifinal in 2009 with coach Jay Wright. And John Beilein took his Michigan team to the tournament’s final just last year.

Talent is a strong indicator of success in the NCAA tournament; however, it is the head coaches responsibility to make that talent click into a deep tournament run. There is a reason that ten men dominate the Final Four landscape over the last 14 years. So for those looking to win Buffett’s billion, invest in coaches.

Pistons Come Up Empty at Trade Deadline

Despite all the rumors flying around throughout the season, the trade deadline came and passed without the Detroit Pistons making a move. The team was reportedly heavily shopping Josh Smith in the last hours of the NBA’s trade period; however, no deal was reached and the team will play through the remainder of the year with the same roster that is 22-32 and currently sitting in ninth place in the East. 

While Detroit decided to stick with their somewhat dysfunctional roster, moves by other teams have the possibility to affect Detroit. Charlotte added Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the expense of Ramon Sessions. Sessions may be the best player involved in this trade, but two effective players are usually better than one. Both Neal and Ridnour represent an increase in three-point shooting skill which the Bobcats desperately need. Ridnour should also be able to step in and fill the backup point guard void left by Sessions. 

Charlotte’s motivation was to improve their positioning in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but Cleveland made a move in an attempt to climb above Detroit and enter into the playoff picture. The Cavaliers gave up two second round picks, Earl Clark and Henry Sims for Spencer Hawes. Hawes’ play has been declining since his fast start for Philadelphia this season, but he is still a valuable player that can boost the Cavaliers rotation. His ability to space the floor will especially be welcome in Cleveland.

These are the two moves with the potential to significantly affect Detroit. It is troubling to see the two teams battling with the Pistons for position in the last spots of the Eastern Conference playoffs get better while Detroit did nothing. The Pistons’ ultimate fear is landing outside of both the playoffs and the NBA’s bottom-eight. By doing nothing at the deadline, they’ve increased the likelihood of this fear becoming reality.

There is nothing to suggest that Detroit will miraculously solve their various issues in house this season. That being said, the chances of holding off Cleveland and catching Charlotte or Atlanta are very slim. 

It is beginning to seem very likely that Detroit will be forced to live its nightmare: watching Charlotte play in the first round of the playoffs and also watching them make the Pistons’ first-round selection. When the Bobcats are out maneuvering you, you have issues. 

Though it does seem problematic, not making a move is not the end of the world and there are various reasons the team may have stood pat. It is possible (and likely) that owner Tom Gores no longer truly trusts GM Joe Dumars and was more comfortable waiting until the summer when he can bring in a new GM before making any major moves.

Detroit still holds all the power in regard to Greg Monroe as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Teams may look to poach the young big with a max offer sheet, but Detroit can choose to match any offer for Monroe.

It stands to reason that as time goes on, and dollars slowly drip off his contract, that Josh Smith will become more moveable as well.

The deadline was supposed to provide us with a better picture of the Pistons’ future plans, or at least where their focus lies for the second half of the season. Instead, we are still left to ponder: what is the plan in the Detroit? 

Improving the Pistons’ Future Outlook: A Three-Team Trade

Before I present you with what may be seen as a ridiculous trade, allow me to clarify my reasoning behind the Pistons being very active at the NBA trade deadline. The simple answer is that the team’s personnel is bad. Over the last 25 years, Joe Dumars has played a vital role in the growth of the Pistons’ franchise; however, over the last five years, he has almost singlehandedly placed the franchise in the dumps.

We could go back and highlight all of Dumars’ bone-headed moves (see Villanueva and Gordon), but what’s most important is the outlook of the current roster. The future value of this team starts and ends with Andre Drummond (one of the few bright spots for Dumars over the last couple years). Drummond is a physical specimen with the potential to join a class of athletes inhabited most recently by Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal. While the overall basketball skill is still being built, Drummond’s overwhelming size coupled with his ability to fly around the floor gives him the potential to be the NBA’s next dominant big man. Detroit will go as far as Drummond can take it.

video via Dawk Ins

This is why I tend to favor the Pistons keeping Josh Smith rather than Greg Monroe. Sure, there are glaring weaknesses to the Smith argument, most notably his struggles this season, but he fits better next to Drummond as the team’s power forward and stands to see his numbers improve if he makes the full-time transition back to his regular position. Monroe has improved his work as a four, but he still fits most naturally on a basketball court as a center with room to operate around the basket.

Smith’s age is also a negative. He is more than four years older than Monroe and it’s not hard to understand why the younger player would make more sense for a team looking to build toward future success. Monroe and Drummond could be the pillars of this team for the years to come. Smith, however, is still just 28 years old and should still have many years of productive basketball ahead of him. There is also a fear that such an athletically-driven talent will face a larger drop-off than others as age begins to set in.

Championship aspirations and realistic potential should be the ultimate driving force behind building this team. The Pistons, however, ignored this idea in the offseason and instead focused on solely improving the team’s current talent level. Unfortunately, that led to two signings the team may be wishing they could take back (sound familiar?). Brandon Jennings is not the point guard of a championship team. Currently, he is too erratic and inconsistent on both ends to lead a team deep into the playoffs, especially given the level of talent at point guard in the NBA today. While he represented an improvement over Brandon Knight, Jennings won’t be leading a team to the NBA finals anytime soon. And with Andre Drummond on the roster, the Pistons should set that as their goal for upcoming seasons.

Here we go…

DET-OKC-NYK Three-team Trade

DET also receives: 2014 first round pick from OKC (either Dallas’ or OKC’s if Dallas keeps pick, top-20 protected). 2014 second round pick from NYK.

Oklahoma City potentially is the ultimate winner in this deal. This would set them up with a healthy starting five of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Shumpert and Monroe. Immediately I would say that is the NBA’s best starting unit. Losing Jackson (Westbrook’s injury insurance) and the first round pick would hurt and likely would not be something GM Sam Presti would be too excited about; however, the opportunity to add two quality young players and rid themselves of Kendrick Perkins’ contract could be enough to entice the team.

The Knicks are supposedly seeking an upgrade at point guard and Brandon Jennings would definitely classify as such. Iman Shumpert has been in trade rumors throughout the entire season and as Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to improve, Shumpert becomes more expendable. After their trade with Toronto, the Knicks have appeared unwilling to include draft picks in trades; however, losing a second rounder could be worth just turning Shumpert into Jennings. But, in addition to acquiring the point guard they are seeking, the Knicks would also be able to get out from under the Bargnani deal and would be blessed with a little more cap flexibility when Charlie Villanueva’s deal ends in the offseason.

Finally, the Pistons. One could argue that the team gets the worst out of this deal.  Nobody wants to acquire Kendrick Perkins and Andrea Bargnani in the same trade. It’s just not good. However, while neither player would be too desirable for Detroit, both will be expiring deals next season, one year prior to Jennings.

Reggie Jackson is just beginning to truly find himself as an NBA starting point guard. All 39 of his career starts have come this season and in last year’s playoffs. While his raw numbers are inferior to Jennings’, Jackson has shown marked improvement over the last calendar year. Playing behind Russell Westbrook for the first two seasons of his career did not provide Jackson with much opportunity to showcase himself. In his second season he averaged just 14.2 minutes per game.

When comparing per-36 averages from Jackson’s time as a starter this season, the gap between the two guards begins to close. For this season (in which he has started 49 of 50 games), Jennings’ per-36 averages are: 17.5 pts, 8.0 ast, 3.3 reb and 1.5 stl. For the 30 games this season that Jackson has started, his per-36 averages are: 16.39 pts, 5.6 ast, 4.14 reb and 1.71 stl. While Jennings may still look slightly better on paper, we have to remember that Jackson is playing with Kevin Durant: a superstar who can control the ball and create his own shot. The Pistons’ offense is almost entirely run through Jennings’ hands.

Jackson has posted more win shares per 48 minutes this season (.102 to .097) and boasts a superior defensive rating (104 to 110). He is also a more efficient scorer. Jackson is shooting .440 from the field this season compared to Jennings’ putrid .380.

The glaring weakness in Jackson’s game is his inability to knock down the perimeter shot. The Pistons desperately lack shooting so swapping one of their potential perimeter threats (Jennings) for a player not likely to force much urgency from closing defenses is not ideal. However, by swapping Monroe, the spacing issues would be less of an issue.

Acquiring the first round pick from OKC would guarantee that Detroit has the opportunity to select in the first 30 picks of the loaded 2014 draft. The additional second round pick would also be beneficial given that potential first round talent in other years could drop to the second round in 2014. Stockpiling these draft picks is a smart move for any team looking to jump up the NBA’s hierarchy.

Finally, this trade could end up saving the Pistons own pick. While I’ve made it clear I prefer Jackson over Jennings in future years, swapping out the point guard midway through the season will likely hurt the team’s overall performance rather than help. Couple that with the loss of Monroe and the Pistons could end up losing enough games to drop into the NBA’s bottom seven or eight and retain their draft pick from Charlotte. This would be a huge win. All of a sudden the Pistons could go from owning just one second round selection, to having the opportunity to make four selections in a draft that is touted for its abundance of game-changing talent.

*All stats are per basketball-reference.com

Detroit Pistons at the Trade Deadline

With the NBA trade deadline just six days away, the sole move the Detroit Pistons have made remains the firing of former head coach Maurice Cheeks. Detroit is currently sitting in limbo—a half-game back of the Charlotte Bobcats for the Eastern Conference’s eight seed—which would lead many to believe that more changes are likely to occur in Motown. However, it is still unclear whether the team is fully committed to getting better or getting worse this season. Whatever they are doing, a trade could only help the team achieve either goal.

The most common Pistons mentioned in trade rumors are starting forwards Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. The experiment of Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond occupying the floor together has largely failed, and with Monroe due for a raise this summer, it doesn’t make much sense for the team to hold onto both he and Smith since the two of them have proven to be most effective from the same position in the lineup.

Though Detroit continues to leak information that they are not looking to trade Greg Monroe, he remains as the likeliest Piston to be moved due to his looming extension (through which he’ll likely try to earn as close to the max as possible). While Monroe’s perceived value throughout the league may not be as high as it once was, there is still a scarcity of big men that can bring as much scoring and passing skill as Monroe can. His trade value around the league is probably also better than Smith’s due to the large extension Smith just received in the summer and their gap in age.

These two are not the only Pistons that could potentially be moved, and it would not be out of the realm of reality to suggest that of all the players on Detroit’s roster, young big man Andre Drummond might be the only player that is truly off-limit in trade talks.

Here are a couple of my favorite made-up trade scenarios for Detroit:

 

Monroe for Turner

The Pistons would vastly improve their personnel fit through this trade by adding a true small-forward, Evan Turner, that would allow for Josh Smith to make a full-time transition back to the four. Turner is not a deadly outside shooter, which Detroit would like, but he has proven to be a viable scoring threat in Philadelphia this season. His PER is still below 15—13.3 to be exact—but he is no doubt having his best year as a pro. Wroten is also currently enjoying his best professional season and looked strong in limited starts while Michael Carter-Williams was hurt earlier in the year. And at just 20-years-old, Wroten’s length and athleticism, coupled with his vast improvement from last season, make him an intriguing player going forward.

 

Monroe for Porter

Porter has not been a head-turner during his limited time in the league, however, he battled injury early in the year and is now stuck behind Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster at the small forward position in Washington. It is not often that top five picks are moved during their rookie seasons, and Washington likely does not want to part ways with Porter given the potential of a Wall-Beal-Porter core in the future. However, the Wizards would love to have a big with Monroe’s skill to pair with Wall moving forward and due to their abundance of talented wings, they could afford to lose Porter who has only played 214 minutes this season. The Pistons would welcome back Porter in return who could solve their long-term question at small forward and, again, allow Josh Smith to play the four full time and remain closer to the basket.

 

Monroe for Jackson

Reggie Jackson is the new hot name in the NBA as far as up and coming players go. Last year it was Eric Bledsoe playing back-up point guard for the Clippers and looking strong starting in place of Chris Paul. This year it is Jackson doing the same in Oklahoma City playing behind, and starting for, Russell Westbrook. As a starter this season, Jackson is averaging 14.4 pts, 4.9 ast, 3.6 reb and 1.5 stl. These are not eye-popping numbers, but for his first work as an NBA starting point guard, Jackson has looked very strong. I would even go as far to suggest that in the long run, Jackson would be an improvement over current Detroit point guard Brandon Jennings. Oklahoma City would be elated to pencil in Monroe as their starting center alongside a healthy trio of Durant-Ibaka-Westbrook. In OKC, Monroe would be able to play his more natural center position and would have plenty of room to operate on the block with Ibaka proving to be a dangerous midrange threat this season. Losing Jackson would not be ideal for OKC given the Westbrook injury concern and lack of ballhandlers behind the two of them; however, Will Bynum could prove to be an adequate backup to Westbrook and the team still has Derek Fisher to play spot minutes. If OKC is confident Westbrook will return at 100 percent soon, acquiring a player of Monroe’s caliber and ridding themselves of the Kendrick Perkins’ salary might be too much to pass up.

Jennings for Nelson

Josh Smith has been the more popular vote regarding Pistons acquired this offseason that should be moved, but there is also potential that Brandon Jennings could be traded as well. This is far less likely, but if a trade like the aforementioned OKC trade occurred, Jennings would no longer be necessary to the team’s efforts moving forward. Jennings has not been all bad for Detroit this year, but as I said above, I think that Jackson has the potential to be a better point guard than him in the future. Jennings would provide Orlando with a young starting-caliber point guard to build with, something they desperately need unless Oladipo proves to be the long-term solution. Detroit would be free from Nelson’s contract a year earlier than from Jennings and he would provide a potential trade-chip for next year given his expiring deal.

Smith for Deng

Luol Deng may not stick around in Detroit at the end of the year when he becomes a free agent, but at least Josh Smith wouldn’t be either. Cleveland is looking to acquire all-star level talent in order to better convince Kyrie Irving to stay long term and while Smith isn’t the perfect fit in Cleveland, his athletic versatility and overall skill-set make him an attractive option. Not to mention, Cleveland did draft Anthony Bennett first overall last season, despite questions of his fit. Deng would serve as a nice option for Detroit at small forward for the remainder of the year and while he would likely leave in the summer, the Pistons should be happy to have Smith’s contract off the books and the available cap room in the summer as a result.

 

Smith for Shumpert

Suggesting a team trade for Andrea Bargnani is never the smartest, but the chance to acquire a young, talented wing like Shumpert should appeal greatly to the Pistons who are lacking overall athleticism, defense and shooting on the wings (ouch). Shumpert could help fill some of these holes. The third-year player has not shown much improvement over last season, however, the situation in New York has not been the best this season and Shumpert has looked very strong at times. Josh Smith would give the Knicks another star-level player to pair with Carmelo Anthony, along with some necessary size and defensive presence. The fit of Anthony and Smith is not exactly perfect as each player is most effective at the four, however, neither player is entirely incapable of guarding opposing threes and the matchup problems they could create on the offensive end could outweigh their deficiencies on defense. While adding Bargnani’s contract is not at all ideal, it does come off the books after next season—two seasons prior to Josh Smith’s deal. Bargnani’s contract would also be an expiring deal next season which could at least allow for some trade value.

Too Much Winning?

While unexpected, the Detroit Pistons’ firing of coach Maurice Cheeks was not without reason. Despite winning four of their last six, the team has been struggling all year. At the time of Cheeks’ firing, the team was in ninth place in the horrid Eastern Conference, placing them on their couches watching the Bobcats, Raptors, Wizards, Nets, Bulls (-Rose) and Hawks (-Horford) competing in the playoffs had the season ended with Cheeks’ tenure.

If the poor start for the team wasn’t enough, Cheeks has also had a few reported run ins with Pistons players. The latest rumor surrounds Andre Drummond and his reaction to being benched in the second half of a Detroit win over Dallas weeks ago. Josh Smith and Cheeks have also been at odds over a second-half benching. And reserve guard Will Bynum recently was involved in an argument with Cheeks during the second quarter of a game against Orlando. One of the common positive attributes that drew attention following Cheeks’ hire was his relatable nature to players. Cheeks was supposed to be a player’s coach, so couple his troubled relationships with some of the team’s players with the team’s torrid start and one could see how it’s fair that the Pistons decided to part ways with Cheeks.

Ready for some conspiracy theory?

Yes, the Pistons have struggled immensely through 50 games this season. Their talent level is worthy of a playoff position, especially given the Eastern Conference landscape. While they weren’t quite there with Cheeks, there were signs that the team was approaching this goal. The Pistons were just a half game behind Charlotte for eighth place in the East entering their matchup against San Antonio: the team’s first game without Cheeks. They were also only five games behind the third-place Raptors. Translation: there is potential to shoot up the standings at any time.

So then what if the team didn’t fire Cheeks because of the poor performance thus far? While there is nothing to suggest the Pistons were going on a big winning streak anytime soon, they have been slowly creeping closer to Charlotte for the eight seed in the conference. Maybe the organization does not actually want this.

It seems somewhat ridiculous to think that firing Cheeks with 32 games to play in the year will cause a miraculous turnaround down the stretch. In fact, it seems much more likely that a team that already lacks discipline at times will struggle even more when forced to suffer through a coaching change.

In addition to being just a half game out of the playoffs, Detroit is also only two games ahead of the Knicks, who currently hold the NBA’s ninth-worst record. Detroit owes their lottery pick to Charlotte, unless they end in the top eight of the lottery.

Cheeks was doing poor, but what if he wasn’t losing enough? Losing to Indiana or Miami in the first round of playoffs will not do Detroit any good. Maybe the team’s attendance goes up somewhat due to additional interest, but the reality is that either of those two juggernauts will likely sweep the Pistons and the perception will be that Detroit had no business being in the playoffs (like most teams in the East).

It is unlikely that Cheeks’ firing was solely for tanking purposes; however, it is possible that this was a factor in the decision. If the team decided that Cheeks was in fact not the coach they wanted in the future and that their best strategy for this season is to save the draft pick, then firing Cheeks makes perfect sense. Why keep a coach around who you don’t want in the future? Especially one that is potentially hurting your chances moving forward.

Detroit has maintained that it is the playoffs they are chasing and not the lottery, but we would be foolish to believe everything that NBA teams tell us. Cheeks is likely gone for his losing, but how crazy is the NBA when it’s possible to think a coach was fired…for winning?

Cheeks is Gone but Management still an Issue in Detroit

This was supposed to be the year that the Detroit Pistons made it back to the playoffs. The season that the storied franchise would begin to earn back some of the respect they once commanded on NBA floors. Instead, 50 games into the season coach Maurice Cheeks became the first casualty following the team’s worse-than-expected start.

The Pistons announced they were parting ways with Cheeks earlier today, fresh off a victory over the Denver Nuggets that was the team’s fourth win in their last six tries.

Detroit is currently 21-29 and their recent success has found them just a half game behind Charlotte for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs: a position that team owner Tom Gores expected them to be in this year. In fact, expectations for the team were the playoffs at a minimum, with the possibility of grabbing the fifth or sixth seed in a very weak Eastern Conference.

Obviously the results haven’t matched the team’s expectations heading into the year and change was beginning to seem inevitable in Detroit. Many, however, anticipated a trade to attempt to improve, and better balance, the team’s overall talent. Not this.

While it may have been somewhat surprising, the Cheeks firing is not without cause. Detroit currently ranks 20th in the NBA in Offensive Rating with a 102.3, per NBA.com. The offensive struggles were somewhat expected, especially given the team’s clear lack of shooting. Defense though, was supposed to be the team’s calling card. The end they would make their money on. But, their results on that end have not been much better; they currently rank 19th in the NBA in defensive rating at 104.8.

Those two numbers do not solidify a team’s position by any means, however, they are indicative of the exact place the Pistons do not want to be. Anywhere from 9th in the lottery position to 15th or 16th in the NBA is a bad spot for Detroit. A finish in this range would almost guarantee that the team would not only lose their draft pick to Charlotte, but also potentially miss the opportunity to lose to Miami or Indiana in the first round of the playoffs.

Detroit’s struggles are not entirely Cheeks’ fault. The personnel is obviously filled with holes, specifically the fit of the Smith-Monroe-Drummond trio and Joe Dumars has looked questionable at the helm of the team over the last couple years. Overall though, Cheeks has been a negative. At times, the rotations are strange and unpredictable, the offense is stagnant and generally bad, and the fourth-quarter struggles are atrocious.

Cheeks was one of 13 NBA head coaches in their first year with their team this season. He is the first of the group, and the entire NBA thus far, to be stripped of his duties. Has he actually been the NBA’s worst coach to this point though?

Mike Brown in Cleveland could definitely make a case for this, but he’s in the same boat as Cheeks in the sense that his team’s personnel is just not very good. Of the 13 new coaches, Cheeks and Brown are definitely among the leaders of doing the worst job in comparison to the team’s expectations entering the year (yes, even worse than Jason Kidd). The young head coaching talent that has been on display around the NBA is enough to prove the Pistons made the wrong hire. Mike Budenholzer has been wonderful in Atlanta despite losing Al Horford. Brad Stevens has drawn nothing but praise in Boston, finding ways to win with a collection of backup-level talent. Steve Clifford currently has the Bobcats in the playoffs. Jeff Hornacek has Phoenix in the playoffs in the Western Conference, with an injured Eric Bledsoe. And Brett Brown has nearly reached the expected win total for his lowly 76er team.

Cheeks has not shown a capacity to provide a boost like this to the Pistons. So while he may not have been the league’s worst coach (or even the most deserving of a fire), Cheeks is not the future head coach of the Pistons. At least not of a Detroit team hoping to ascend to contender status over the next couple of years.

The question now is who will replace Cheeks. The team formally announced that assistant coach John Loyer would take over as the interim coach for the time being, with some hinting that there is a possibility that he will serve out the year. This is a choice that could prove to mean the end of Joe Dumars. Gores could decide to wait till the summer to allow his next GM to pick his next head coach.

Former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins is the only outside name currently being mentioned as a possibility. Hollins was in the running for the position this summer and on paper looks like a great fit. He took a Memphis team into the thick of the Western Conference playoffs that featured two elite bigs and no shooting (the Detroit blueprint!).

The problem with that is that it probably should have been Hollins job from the beginning. Detroit attempted to convince him to join the team as a Cheeks’ assistant, but he chose not to, instead holding out for a head coaching position (As he should have. If Hollins-Cheeks was meant to be a tandem, it should have been Hollins at the top).

Getting the right guy is not a problem, but a Hollins hire would illuminate a serious issue currently surrounding the Pistons: Joe Dumars appears to be two steps behind on his decision making. The difficulties with this Pistons team are almost solely issues that many were pointing to entering into the season. The fact that we are more than 60 percent of the way through the season and still desperately searching for answers is bad sign for the future of this franchise.

Pistons’ Personnel Questions

The Detroit Pistons have serious problems. Prior to the season, the one focus was the playoffs, but 42 games into the season and the Pistons are sitting at just 17-25. Even in an atrocious Eastern Conference where six of the current top eight teams are within three games of .500, and three are below .500, Detroit is still on the outside looking in.

Part of the problem is the Pistons desire to start three bigs, and the inability of the team to find an effective rotation for the three. The idea seemed strong heading into the season. Three dominant bigs should in theory be able to dominate the paint on both ends of floor, and Josh Smith’s athleticism and defensive prowess were supposed to translate to the small forward position while the three shared the floor together.

Unfortunately, what looks good on paper does not always pan out. Of the six lineups that have featured the big trio together, only two have posted a positive +/- of just barely above 0 at +3 and +7. The other four: -61, -32, -14 and -16, per 82games.com. The good news is, the +3 rating is for the team’s second most used line-up, which features a Jennings/Stuckey backcourt. The bad news is that the -61 rating is for the team’s most-used lineup: the starters. Jennings and Caldwell-Pope round out that five for the Pistons which have played a total of 390 minutes this season.

In his minutes at small forward, Smith has posted a PER of 11.8 and allowed opponents to post a 19.0, per 82games.com. However, when Smith is at his more natural power forward position his PER jumps to a 19.3 and he is holding opponents to a 14.3. 

Monroe has been more efficient than Smith playing out of his natural spot, posting a PER of 17.6 while playing power forward. On the defensive end though, Monroe gives up a PER of 19.6 to opposing power forwards. When Drummond sits, and Monroe is able to slide to his more comfortable center position, his PER increases to 19.9 and his opponents drop to 15.5.

Smith and Monroe are two potentially All-Star caliber players being forced to play out of position. Clearly this is hurting both their individual production and the team’s overall success. If the team continues on like this, the chances of somehow finding success in what appears to be a losing situation are slim. A simple solution seems to be to trade one of them. Moving Monroe especially would solve Smith’s position issues and place the team’s highest-paid player in a position to succeed. 

But what if the losing situation is what the team wants? Playoffs-or-bust was the mantra entering the season. Maybe it’s time for Detroit to choose bust. Though the Pistons owe their first-round pick to the Bobcats, the pick is top-eight protected, and a shot at a top-eight selection in the strong 2014 class could potentially help the Pistons growth immensely. 

Currently the team sits in eleventh place in the NBA, which is exactly where they don’t want to be: no playoffs and no draft pick. Dipping lower in the standings is, however, a very real possibility. Teams with worse records than Detroit that could be in for second-half improvements include: Cleveland, New York and Boston. Ideally these three teams, who are all within three games of the Pistons, will pass Detroit in the standings, placing the Pistons as the NBA’s eighth worst team. That would give Detroit a very good chance at keeping its first round pick. Sliding into the seventh lottery spot would help their cause even more.

Of course, this is a risk, but if they’re not chasing this, then what are the Pistons doing? This team isn’t making the playoffs in its current forms. And even if they were, the result would likely be a sweep at the hands of either the Pacers or the Heat. 

With their current roster though, Detroit can dip into being one of the league’s eight-worst teams. If Coach Cheeks continues to play what are perhaps the team’s two-best players out of position, the NBA’s bottom eight might be much more realistic than the East’s top eight. This isn’t likely to make Tom Gores any happier, but future success will likely benefit more from the addition of a quality high draft pick rather than a trouncing in the playoff’s first round. Maybe there is some strategy to this after all. 

Ridiculously Improbable BCS Outcomes

Championship Weekend in college football is upon us. While we’re all talking about whether Auburn or Ohio State deserves a spot in the National Championship game, both the Buckeyes and the Tigers have games to prepare for this weekend. Games that will be as intense as they come (ok, maybe not for Auburn) with both teams facing off against top-ten opponents. The Big Ten and SEC Championships are just a pair of the games on the slate for this weekend. And at the end of it, the current rankings and expected outcomes won’t matter. Everything can change depending on this weekend’s results. There are hundreds of different what-if outcomes that could occur. This one is my favorite.

First, on Friday night:

Northern Illinois defeats Bowling Green in the MAC Championship and finishes their season undefeated. By BCS automatic qualifying rules, they will receive an automatic berth if they finish in the top 12 (which happens in this scenario), but they could also be an AQ team if they finish in the top 16 and are ranked higher than an AQ conference champion (say perhaps, the AAC).

Saturday:

Oklahoma defeats Oklahoma State, ruining the Cowboys opportunities for a Big 12 title.

Central Florida defeats Southern Methodist to claim the AAC’s AQ selection.

Texas defeats Baylor in a game that decides the Big 12 title after Oklahoma’s victory. Despite all the talk early in the season about Mack Brown’s job security, Texas returns to a BCS bowl with the Big 12 bid.

Missouri beats Auburn, ending all talk of War Eagle to the National Championship. Missouri earns the SEC automatic bid, which is technically a spot in the Sugar Bowl, but usually a National title berth. More on this later.

Arizona State beats Stanford and claims the Pac-12 bid to the Rose Bowl.

Duke does the unfathomable and defeats Florida State, not only knocking Florida State out of the National Championship picture, but also guaranteeing themselves a spot in the Orange Bowl.

Michigan State beats Ohio State and the Buckeyes’ National Championship hopes also crumble. Sparty receives the Big Ten automatic bid to the Rose Bowl.

Aftermath

I’m not even going to attempt to capture the full rankings following that mess, but a rough sketch would likely look something like:

1. Missouri

2. Alabama

3-8 (no order): Michigan State, Arizona State, Florida State, Ohio State, Auburn, South Carolina.

8-14ish: Northern Illinois, Oklahoma State, Duke, Oklahoma, Baylor, Oregon, Texas, UCF.

Selection Process

The National Championship, of course, features the number one and number two teams in the final rankings. Here, that is Missouri vs. Alabama.

Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Arizona State

Both teams receive AQ bids to the game due to being conference champions not ranked in the top two. In reality, this is probably the likeliest match up of the five. ASU is capable of taking down Stanford and MSU is a good possibility to be here even with a loss to Ohio State.

Orange Bowl: Duke

The Blue Devils are the AQ team out of the ACC after defeating Florida State in the ACC championship.

Fiesta Bowl: Texas

As the Big 12 champion, Texas receives an automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl. Mack Brown definitely gets to keep his job and the Fiesta Bowl is happy to get a team with a massive following (read: Moneymaker)

Sugar Bowl: Ohio State

The Sugar Bowl loses their AQ team, Missouri, the SEC champion, to the National Championship game. That allows them to make their selection before any others occur. Florida State would be a possibility here, but Ohio State likely is ranked higher following a loss to Michigan State versus FSU’s defeat to Duke. Ohio State returns to the Sugar Bowl, where their 2011 win was vacated due to violations surrounding the sale of team memorabilia by players.

Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Duke

The order of these selections rotates on a yearly basis. The Orange Bowl will be delighted to pick first after apparently being quite upset about having to take Northern Illinois last year. Florida State are the darlings of this bowl and the Orange Bowl won’t hesitate to snatch them and their high-profile quarterback up, even if it does mean a rematch of the ACC Championship.

Sugar Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Ohio State

Left with the forced decision between NIU and Central Florida, the Sugar Bowl likely selects the undefeated Huskies. Northern Illinois appeared in the Orange Bowl last year and the TV ratings withstood their small stature. They’ll struggle to sell their tickets yet again, but as we saw last year, there are ways to handle this.

Fiesta Bowl: Central Florida vs. Texas

Definitely not their first choice, but the Fiesta Bowl is forced to take AAC AQ Central Florida. If people thought OSU’s close call against Michigan was a flag of caution, UCF snuck by 2-9 South Florida 23-20 at home this past weekend. UCF did beat a tough Louisville team on the road earlier in the season and their lone lose was by three to South Carolina. What is crazy: it’s more surprising to see Texas in this game. The Longhorns could use a BCS win.

National Championship: Missouri vs. Alabama

The one-loss SEC vs. an undefeated-other is never resolved as the undefeateds both lose. Missouri reminds people about the other team in the SEC Championship and sends Auburn to a non-BCS bowl. Unfortunately for the Tigers (of Missouri), they’ll come up against an Alabama team that has spent a lot of time thinking about their loss to Auburn. The SEC goes from almost being shut out of the National Championship to clean sweeping it. Alabama wins by double-digits. Nick Saban stays winning.

Chaos is fun.

Undefeated Ohio State Deserves National Championship Opportunity

The BCS is rarely cut and dry. The formula hardly makes sense to anyone. There’s computers, there’s humans and there’s chaos. One thing that has always seemed clear though: if two teams from major conferences are undefeated at the end of the year, they play for the National Championship. With wins in their conference championship games on Saturday, that would mean Florida State vs. Ohio State at the end of this season. But on the eve of guaranteeing an end to the SEC’s national title dominance, some feel the script should be switched. They’re wrong. Following a win in the Big Ten Championship, Ohio State deserves to play in college football’s biggest game.

The Buckeye’s schedule is much weaker than Auburn’s. According to the Sagarin Rankings, OSU played the 61st toughest schedule in the nation. They did play two opponents ranked in the top 25 at the time of the game, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Northwestern was 16th when they hosted OSU, they would go on to win just one more game all year and finished ineligible for bowl selection due to winning just five games. Wisconsin would be competing for an at-large BCS selection if it weren’t for a loss against Penn State last weekend. And without a ridiculous finish in a loss on the road to Arizona State early in the year, Wisconsin would look like an even better win on paper.

Ohio State will meet Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday. There is a real chance they lose, even if not many people are suggesting this. The Spartans are currently ranked number ten in the BCS. Their one loss came on the road at Notre Dame in September. That game hinged on a couple of questionable pass interference calls and Sparty’s offense was nothing compared to what it is now. Junior running back Jeremy Langford is carrying a streak of seven-straight 100-yard rushing games. Michigan State, with the nation’s top statistical defense, will be Ohio State’s toughest opponent of the season, which will give the Buckeyes an opportunity to show themselves off after they took criticism for their matchup against rival Michigan last Saturday.

Some of that criticism is definitely warranted. Michigan has been atrocious pretty much all year. I’ll be the first to point that out. However, their lone bright spot at times has been their offense. When Devin Gardner isn’t throwing to the other team, he has proved to be a very dangerous threat. The Wolverines average 33.8 points per game this season, good for 40th in the nation. They put up 63 on Indiana, another team with little to no defense, and they also made an early statement that had fans excited when they beat Notre Dame 41-30 in the second game of the year.

Michigan finished 5-2 at home this year. In those seven match-ups, they averaged 41 points per game, the exact total they put on OSU. The Wolverines are a vastly different team at home then they are on the road. Lastly, it was Michigan vs. Ohio State. This is not an average game. The rivalry always brings something out of both teams. Michigan was ready for this game. and they knew a win would have saved face for a poor season. Brady Hoke made that clear when he held up the two fingers to go for the win.

An undefeated team from a power six conference has never been left out of the BCS National Championship game in favor of a one-loss team. Since 1998, the first year of the BCS, 12 teams have finished the regular season undefeated and were not selected to play in the National Championship. Only two of those teams came from automatic qualifying conferences: Cincinnati in 2009 and Auburn in 2004. Cincinnati was passed over in favor of undefeated’s Alabama and Texas. And in 2004, undefeated’s USC and Oklahoma got the nod over Auburn.

Auburn feels that they deserve to make some history and be invited ahead of Ohio State following this:

This was no doubt the most exciting moment of the college football season. Chris Davis will always be remembered at Auburn and in college football circles everywhere. A win over Alabama, however, does not equal an automatic bid to the National Championship. The SEC feels high-and-mighty, and with seven straight national titles they’re entitled to some of this. It is the nation’s strongest conference. The most NFL talent is concentrated in the conference. And winning the conference results in an automatic bid to a BCS game. But not the National Championship game.

Auburn has the nation’s 26th ranked schedule, according to Sagarin. Their marquee win is obviously Alabama. After that, few games stick out as true statements. They beat Texas A&M on the road by four, but Johnny Football and crew finished the year with four losses. The week before Alabama, it took an improbable hail mary to rally past Georgia at home, another four-loss team.

Auburn’s other chance to make a true statement came on the road at LSU, their lone loss on the year, 35-21. Auburn defenders point out that this is a different team than they were in September. Guess what, so is every team in college football. Michigan State isn’t getting a pass for their early loss to Notre Dame, even though one could argue they’ve improved as much as any team from the early weeks. If there were only one unbeaten team, these factors mean something, but there’s not. That’s the reality of “Every Game Counts.” September matters.

Missouri is also a one-loss SEC team. They beat Georgia on the road and conquered Johnny Football this season as well. South Carolina, a top ten team, handed the Tigers their only loss of the year in a game that required overtime. Do they deserve to get in if they beat Auburn this weekend? Not many people seem to be saying yes.

Finally, Florida State has avoided all this talk of being jumped by a one-loss team. Yes, their margins of victory were more impressive than Ohio State’s. The Seminoles have won their games by an average of 42.7 points. OSU has won by an average of 27.9. Yet, according to Sagarin, Ohio State has played a tougher schedule, ranked 61st, than Florida State has, ranked 66th. If Ohio State deserves criticism for their strength of schedule, than Florida State deserves it just as bad. No one, however, is suggesting the Seminoles should be passed over because their conference is weaker than the SEC.

Following their win over Alabama, Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said to reporters that it would be “a disservice to college football” if a one-loss SEC champion was not a selection for the national title game. It would be a disservice to college football if Ohio State completed their undefeated season this weekend and were jumped by a one-loss Auburn. The SEC does not deserve preferential treatment in the world of college football. Auburn can argue they’re a better team than Ohio State. After three missed field goals and the ridiculous ending though, I could argue Alabama is better than Auburn, Ohio State and Florida State. But they didn’t take care of business when they needed to, and in college football, this is all that matters. An undefeated Ohio State deserves a shot at the National Championship because they will have earned it. Beating Alabama is not an automatic qualifier for the National Title, no matter how bad Auburn wants it to be.

Whatever side you stand on, I think there is one point we can all agree on: the college football playoff cannot come soon enough.