No matter what your political persuasion, at some point, even President Obama's most ardent defenders are about to face the harsh reality that he has likely lost one high-profile job during his administration: His brother in law's.
At some point today, it is very possible that the first lady's brother is going to get canned. Michelle's coaching brother has been a pleasant, odd-duck story for a few years now -- particularly when the President inevitably references Robinson when filling out his Robinson-less bracket with ESPN's Andy Katz every year -- but even when your brother-in-law is in the Oval Office, you're expected to win basketball games. And Robinson just hasn't done enough of that.
With their 74-68 loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 first round Wednesday night, the Oregon State Beavers watched their season end without a trip to the NCAA tournament for the 23rd consecutive season. The loss dropped them to 14-18 on the season, the fourth season out of Robinson's five that the Beavers have failed to notch a winning record. In Robinson's first season, Oregon State won the CBI championship, but we're still not sure that tournament actually exists; it might be the invention of a child's imagination as he stares into a snow globe.
Robinson's record at Oregon State over those five years: 78-89. That's not going to get it done, particularly with a team that was considered to have real talent going into the year. There were some pre-Pac-12 hiccups -- most notably a home loss to Towson, a team that went 1-31 last season; the post-game press conference is brutal to watch -- but the 4-14 record in-conference was what really did the Beavers in. It is worth noting that, as likable as Robinson is, the Beavers might have rushed matters hiring him in the first place. He came to OSU from Brown, where he was only 30-28, albeit in second place his second (and final) season. The general consensus then was that Robinson was a promising young coach … but also that his family pedigree didn't hurt, either.
It's possible that Robinson hangs on; the Beavers have been a bit snake-bitten this year. After the loss, Robinson said his team won't be going to the CBI, and that he was happy star Eric Moreland confessed he wasn't planning on declaring for the NBA Draft. He certainly didn't talk like a guy who felt he would lose his job. But even when you have the President's number on your cell phone, you can't finish last in the Pac-12. He may or may not survive for 2013-14, but there is absolutely no one in Corvallis chanting, "Four More Years."
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There has been some talk in recent days, in the wake of Stony Brook's loss in the American East tournament and Middle Tennessee State's loss in the Sun Belt tournament, that life should be made a bit easier for conference champions. The two teams went a combined 33-3 in the conferences, but they both went down to upsets and will likely miss the NCAA tournament. (Middle Tennessee State has a slight chance at an at-large, buoyed by Iona's surprisingly inclusion last season.)
The floated notion: Regular-season conference champions, if they don't win their conference tournament, should get to play the conference tournament winner in an extra game to determine who goes to the NCAA tourney. That way, a dominant regular season isn't vaporized by one bad night.
Another proponent of this idea? Norfolk State. The Spartans went 16-0 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference but went down last night to 14-19 Bethune-Cookman 70-68. So Norfolk State went undefeated -- ruled the whole MEAC -- and then collapsed at the worst possible time.
We tend to lack sympathy for this viewpoint, while we still have sympathy for the teams involved. Conferences often make much of their basketball money from their conference tournaments, which of course come presold with the "winner goes to the NCAAs!" packaging. If they really wanted to reward their regular season champ above all else … well, they'd be the Ivy League. (Nevermind the television scheduling nightmare of a regular-season champ/tourney champ matchup.) The reason championship week is so fun is because the stakes are so high. If a Norfolk State or a Stony Brook has to suffer? It is a small price to pay.
Besides, heading into the MEAC, Norfolk State was 5-11. We're not talking about Gathers-era Loyola Marymount here.
Bucknell. Now here's a team that was great in the regular season and kept it going in the postseason. They won the Patriot League and breezed through the conference tourney, and while they (like everyone else in the conference) benefited from the absence of Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, they have an NBA prospect of their own in 6-11 center Mike Muscala. The Bison reek of first-round upset chic pick, particularly because they might end up as high as a 12 seed. If these guys end up playing, say, Syracuse in the first round? That'll be the 5-12 everyone feels smart about picking.
Plus: Alums include Christy Mathewson, Pa Walton and Philip Roth. How do you not root for these guys?
On Tap Thursday
Oddly, there will be no tickets punched Thursday; no conference tourneys are wrapping up. Fortunately, the big dogs kick off today: The ACC tourney and the Big Ten tourney, the latter of which might be the best conference tournament of all time. The most intriguing matchup might be the 8/9 game in the Big Ten, which features Illinois playing Minnesota, two almost-assuredly-in teams still playing-in before most people in Chicago have even started thinking about lunch. It's that sort of year for the Big Ten: Two near-NCAA-locks are playing in the 8-9 game.
I will be at the Atlantic-10 tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn all day … but I'll be watching that Illinois game on every device that works.