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March 12, 2008

Fans ponder what might have been

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
Mar. 5: Upset watch
Feb. 27: Room for two?
Feb. 20: Worried Wildcats

Would Cincinnati be going to the NCAA Tournament if Devan Downey hadn't transferred? How much better would Vanderbilt be if DeMarre Carroll had stuck around?

You can bet fans at each of those schools are asking those questions.

Downey, who left Cincinnati after his freshman season, averaged 18.3 points and 5.2 assists per game for South Carolina this season and ranked second in the nation with 3.2 steals per game. Carroll, who went to Missouri after two seasons at Vandy, also had a solid season, averaging 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds.

Indiana fans had to watch former Hoosiers starter Robert Vaden become a star at UAB this season. Vaden has knocked down 138 3-pointers and is averaging 21.8 points.

That got one IU fan thinking about what would have happened if players weren't allowed to transfer. How good would the Hoosiers be if that were the case?

We tackle that question, along with others about the NCAA Tournament futures of Drake, Washington State and BYU, and the job security of Alabama coach Mark Gottfried in this week's mailbag.

What if

I have a big "what if?" question: If players didn't transfer, how good do you think Indiana would have been this season? The Hoosiers would have Patrick Ewing Jr. and Robert Vaden to go along with D.J. White and Eric Gordon. Would that have been the best team in the nation?

Pete Bowman from LaPorte, Ind.

That all sounds good in theory, but I see at least one major flaw. Ewing is a senior at Georgetown, meaning even if he had stayed at Indiana, his college career would have ended last season.

Vaden, a junior swingman at UAB, still could be eligible at Indiana, and that certainly would have made the Hoosiers better. He is one of the best outside shooters in the country and would have freed things up for Gordon and White. I think if you add him to the mix, the Hoosiers are contending for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with or without Kelvin Sampson at the helm.

But that's all assuming Sampson would have been able to lure Gordon to Bloomington with Vaden on the Indiana roster. That certainly would have been a tougher sell since Gordon would have to share shots with Vaden instead of being the go-to guy from Day One.

Scouting BYU

Here in the East, we do not see much of BYU. But they seem like a solid team with the potential to perhaps reach the Sweet 16. What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Mike Weinstein from Pittsburgh

Sounds like you are looking for a little help when it comes time to fill out your bracket. Well, I wouldn't put BYU any further than the Sweet 16, but I'd keep in mind that the Cougars are capable of pulling off a big upset in the early rounds.

We are talking about a team that beat Louisville and put a scare into North Carolina in November. Those performances were no fluke. The well-rounded Cougars have a strong inside game with talented center Trent Plaisted and two good outside shooters in small forward Lee Cummard (who's shooting a remarkable 57 percent from the field) and 3-point specialist Jonathan Tavernari.

The problem for the Cougars has been consistency, particularly from Plaisted. He has a penchant for taking over one game, then disappearing in the next. When he doesn't play well, the Cougars are vulnerable which makes me wary of picking them to win more than twice in the NCAA Tournament.

Riding the bandwagon

My Iowa State Cyclones are going nowhere, which makes this month tough to get through. The one area for excitement I have is that nearby Drake is going to the NCAA Tournament. How far do you think Drake can go?

Jared Graeve from Ames, Iowa

You may have to put up with being called a bandwagon fan, but I believe you'll have something to cheer about beyond the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

I have to admit I was a non-believer in Drake until recently. Until it faced Butler, Drake hadn't played anybody better than Saint Mary's and the Gaels won that matchup.

But beating Butler in Indianapolis sold me. It takes a good team to win at Hinkle Fieldhouse these days. Butler is 27-3 at home over the past two seasons with one of those losses coming last season to a Southern Illinois squad that reached the Sweet 16.

Drake put on an even more impressive display in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title game, rolling to a 79-49 rout of an Illinois State team that has won 24 games.

The Bulldogs are peaking at the right time. With a resume that warrants a top-five seed, I believe they can reach the Sweet 16 and perhaps go even further with the right draw.

Wondering about WSU

I was wondering what you think of the Washington State Cougars. How far do you think they can get in the NCAA Tournament this year?

Steven Nguyen from Milwaukee

Washington State's resume isn't as strong as last season, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cougars get past the second round, where they fell to Vanderbilt in a thrilling double-overtime affair last season that may have been the best game of the '07 tournament.

The Cougars might be the most experienced team in this season's field of 65. All five starters returned, and their top six scorers are either juniors or seniors. That includes point guard Taylor Rochestie and center Aron Baynes, two of the Pac-10's most improved players. Rochestie owns a 2.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and Baynes has raised his scoring average from 5.2 to 10.6 points per game.

Consider that the Cougars' trademark is great defense, and there are plenty of reasons to believe they will be winning multiple games in the Big Dance.

Time for a change?

Why can't Alabama athletic director Mal Moore pull the trigger and get rid of Mark Gottfried? The Tide has had only three winning records in the SEC in the past 10 seasons. In my opinion, Gottfried never has been a quality coach and has continuously underachieved.

James Boyett from Albany, Ga.

Nobody ever is going to call Gottfried an X's and O's wiz, but I think he's getting a bad rap.

This is a coach who has won an SEC regular-season title (2001-02) and been to the Elite Eight (2003-04) at a football school. Just two seasons ago, the Tide was a basket away from knocking off eventual runner-up UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and that team only had seven scholarship players.

If those accomplishments didn't buy Gottfried a pass this season, the absence of star point guard Ronald Steele did; Steele took a medical redshirt. Moore may be reserving final judgment until seeing what Gottfried can do with a healthy Steele again.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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