It started at about 1:00pm yesterday. I’ve never quite understood when or why people decide to share their thoughts on Facebook for all the world to see, but it was pretty clear what had happened. Doug Gottlieb struck again.
The history goes like this: Gottlieb began as a college hoops analyst for ESPN around 2004, not long after which he jumped on the bandwagon and criticized certain Big East teams’ weak non-conference schedules. While it’s one thing for Vitale and other members of the media to feed their own bias for creating news and pushing for big matchups early in the season, Gottlieb went one step further and described certain teams’ schedules as being “fraudulent.” I believe he specifically pointed out Georgetown and Pitt as culprits, but the prime target seemed to be Syracuse.
This struck a nerve with Jim Boeheim, who responded at a press conference: “One guy in particular was in our league for a minute or two, but he couldn’t play in it. He seems to do the most talking, probably because he wasn’t a very good player and he’s not very smart about basketball.” Now obviously Jimmy B. knew that Gottlieb’s departure from Notre Dame, where he played as a point guard his freshman year, was not basketball-related, but clearly the comment was meant as a dig at Gottlieb’s credibility to be making such statements.
Since then, Gottlieb has become public enemy number one for Syracuse basketball fans. They love to hate him. So when Gottlieb has said throughout this season, in so many words, that Syracuse was overrated, that they didn’t deserve the #1 ranking and that other teams were better, there were consistent grumblings and harshly-worded comments from ‘Cuse fans about his credibility. Yesterday, during halftime of the UConn vs. Syracuse Big East tournament, as well as during the post-game, he really set some people off. I, however, do not dispute some of the things he said:
1) I think he has every right to his opinion that Kentucky and North Carolina are better teams than Syracuse.
2) Even the most ardent Cuse supporters cannot argue that they are a poor rebounding team, they are inconsistent with their outside shooting and their half-court offense is simple and at certain times even stagnant.
3) Syracuse’s best wins, in terms of RPI, were against Marquette, Georgetown and Florida, all of which took place in the Carrier Dome.
Hard to argue this, right? The guy makes some decent points.
And now full disclosure: I was one of those Syracuse fans who immediately took to Facebook to blast Gottlieb. I can’t stand the guy. It’s not so much what he says that grinds me, it’s how he says it, as well as his poor attempts at justifying his opinions. I usually try to ignore it because I suspect he enjoys Syracuse fans despising him and that he’s just trying to say outrageous things to get attention for ratings purposes, the latter of which makes him no different from Skip Bayless. So now, after attempting to be subjective with my thoughts above, are my responses to his points:
1) The discussion between the ESPN talking heads, which also included Mike Tirico and Jay Williams, was not a subjective, “Who do you think are the best teams, regardless of record or their ‘body of work’?” It was, “Who should be the top seeds in the NCAA tournament?” Gottlieb kept trying to argue that Syracuse just was not one of the top two teams in the country, as if he wanted to make sure to point out Cuse’s flaws rather than join in the conversation about who should be the one-seeds. However, when one of the other commentators asked if Syracuse deserved to be a one-seed even if they aren’t in his top-two, he clearly hesitated, implying that he didn’t believe Cuse deserved to be. To argue that Syracuse is even remotely questionable as a #1 seed is absurd. They have one loss all season, which came on the road without one of their starters, they have the #1 RPI and they went 17-1 in the Big East, which will likely have 10 teams in the NCAA tournament. Again, while he is entitled to his opinion on whether there are other teams that are better, can you imagine if the selection committee weighed their own personal opinions more than won-loss or RPI when creating the brackets? It would be chaos. Gottlieb’s opinion and arguments were not relevant to the conversation and at the same seemed focused on being overly, and perhaps irrationally, critical of Syracuse.
2) While Syracuse does have its weaknesses, primarily those mentioned by Gottlieb, his comments all but dismiss the fact that they are a terrific defensive team that scores a ton of points in transition from forced turnovers and blocks and that they do not turn the ball over much themselves. They can go 10 players deep, with the ninth and tenth guys being McDonald’s All-Americans, so they are certainly talented. All of those strengths are certainly important enough to outweigh their weaknesses or else they would not be 31-1. Put another way, saying Cuse’s half court offense is poor is like saying the 2011-2012 Alabama football team’s passing offense was only so-so, without acknowledging the fact that their defense was so incredibly good that it made that point irrelevant.
3) Yes, Syracuse’s best wins were at home, but they had some good ones on the road, as well, including Cincinnati, Louisville, UConn and South Florida. Combine that with the rest of its Big East schedule which, even in an “off year” for the conference, is likely to include 10 teams in the NCAA tournament, and you have a consistently difficult schedule game in and game out that sets it apart from the schedules of other potential top seeds.
Note that when making my points above, I do not need to explain why other teams are not good or what their weaknesses are in order to argue that Cuse deserves a one-seed. That is my problem with Gottlieb — instead of pointing out why other teams are strong and deserve top seeds, he prefers to point out the negatives and weaknesses of Syracuse which just makes it sound like he’s got it out for them. And maybe he does, despite what he says is the contrary, especially after the comments from Boeheim and Syracuse fans.
When Tirico and Williams essentially ganged up on him after his comments, and seemed genuinely shocked at what he was saying, he tried to defend himself by responding (and I’m loosely quoting here), “I think Syracuse is a good team and Waiters is great, but…” Maybe it was just me, but there was just something about that comment and the way he said it when watching it live that made Gottlieb sound overly biased against Syracuse. I think it is this, more than the points that he is trying to make or opinions that he has, that really makes Syracuse fans dislike Gottlieb.
I realize that maybe I’m trusting my very strong male emotional IQ a bit too much and that I might be over-analyzing all of this. I do appreciate when commentators break away from overly praising teams and players, which is why I’m a big fan of Bobby Knight’s work on ESPN. For whatever reason, and this applies to his commentary on teams other than Syracuse as well, Gottlieb just comes across as overly nasty and bitter to me. Add to that his consistent and sometimes blatant attempts to make contrarian statements, and I just think Gottlieb is more focused on feeding his ego and garnering attention for himself than he is on making smart, intelligent statements and opinions on college basketball.
I realize that by writing this, I’m just fueling Doug Gottlieb’s very irritating fire. Perhaps the best way to respond to his comments is to follow the lead of Tirico, who yes, I realize is a Syracuse grad and worked as a local sports anchor in Syracuse early in his career. After Gottlieb continued his desperate attempts to argue against Cuse’s qualifications as a one-seed, Tirico segued into a commercial break with, “Annnnnd, despite all of that, Syracuse has now won 31 out of their 32 games.”
I will now go back to doing my best to ignore Doug Gottlieb…until halftime of tonight’s Cincy vs. Cuse game, at least.
About the Author: Crushing orange since the day he was born, Cuse in da House reps the upper state and now resides in Rochacha with his lovely wife and two adorable dogs. The Gait brothers adorned his adolescent bedroom walls, and he frequently dreams of forever muzzling Quint Kessenich, while often offering his own profound commentary on what used to be the fastest sport on two feet. Cuse in da House considers himself basically a doctor after studying pre-med at Cornell before selling out to the hoards of cash he earned on Wall Street during the 2001 and 2008 recessions. A wannabe foodie, he enjoys a more-than-occasional Wegmans sub and is always ready to scarf down some Dino. He hates the Yankees, really dislikes Duke and has a strong distaste for the Lakers and Cowboys. He wishes more NBA players would pay homage to Lawrence Moten by rocking high socks and is still disappointed that Billy Owens didn't make it in the NBA. Cuse in da House has an appreciation for both death metal and British 80s bands, and on the weekend he enjoys hitting up Home Depot and Bed, Bath & Beyond, if there's ever enough time.