• Oct. 31 | 7 p.m. PT
The readers have spoken
Asking a person to rate the best coach in any sport is no easy task, but one in which most people love to voice their opinion. When Red Auerbach died Saturday, it seemed a good time to ask the question. Many people voted here and others submitted responses.
The results? Several are posted below, though it seems — like the vote — that people are split between Auerbach and former UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden. My vote went to Wooden, which some agreed with, while others went with Auerbach. Others wrote in complaining that former North Carolina men’s coach Dean Smith should’ve been on the vote (I placed a premium on titles won, of which Smith has two, fewer than the other men’s coaches on the list) and that even asking the question was in poor taste because it was disrespectful to Auerbach.
Perhaps. But I offer some responses anyway.
Both are probably equally as good as coaches, the separation between the two is that Wooden is so much classier.
— Dean Sterling, Lincoln, Calif.
Red Auerbach is the best coach ever. Wooden record is impressive, however in college basketball you have more control over the players you are going to get. It's called recruiting. And if you have a winning program one year, then the following year more top prospects will want to play for you. That is why coaches like Krzyzewski get the top players year after year. In the NBA you have to worry about what will be available come draft time. And you have to worry about free agency. Not to mentions super inflated egos. Red Auerbach was a great coach in the technical sense, but he was an even better people manager. And he deserves to be recognized as the greatest ever.
— Sid, Vienna, Va.
Hey Mike, My vote goes to John Wooden. His UCLA teams of the sixties and early seventies transformed college basketball into an art form. I also believe Coach Wooden helped mold the greatest player of all time — Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
— Joe Luna, Santa Fe, N.M.
And what do you get if you win this debate. Does it mean that one was a loser and the other a champion? Cmon, who knows who's better and who cares. They were both great and both had the numbers to support that claim. It would be equally foolish to ask who's a better coach -- Wooden or Coach K. Wooden's got incredible stats to support him, but K is widely believed to be the best of the best today. The answer is that you'd do equally well with either man at the helm.
— Andrew, Albany, N.Y.
Mike: Wooden? Auerbach? Great coaches in for a different era. Both had an absolute lock on the best talent available. Wooden — California, please. Auerbach — When playoff money represented half a players salary. (No wonder the entire Celtics organization hated Wilt so much. He never had to sell any of his trophy's to send a family member to college.) You can say this about Red he was very loyal to under paid players. Plus the did it in the same place. How incredibly more difficult was it for Phil to do it in two different towns with no control over money and/or roosters. It's no contest! Thanks, but no thanks. I'll stick with Phil.
— Jim, Andover, Mass.
In my opinion, Red is the better coach for precisely the reasons you favor Wooden. It is true that Wooden had to deal with college students and making them the best. But college students pick the school, and when Wooden was winning his titles, the best in the country wanted to play for him. With professionals, they can be lured away with money. In addition, given most, if not all contracts in the NBA when Red was coaching were one year, it became more important to keep the players happy. College students, although they can transfer, usually stay where they are for four years. Secondly, the one and done tournament puts far more luck into the equation than the NBA tournament. Wooden was an amazing coach, but I'm quite certain that there are those who could argue that they weren't necessarily the best team in a couple of those tournaments. With a best of 7 series, the better team will usually win. That was almost always the case with the Celtics when Red was at the helm. They were the best and it was because Red was the best.
— Jared, Philadelphia
Red is the greatest coach coach ever not only for having a part in 10 championships...but as a man who stood up against racism in a part of history that amerikkka has forgoten..and being a young black man that is a coach with character.
— Frank Billups, Fargo, N.D.
Wooden could recruit whomever he liked, whereas Auerbach had to maneuver through the draft and trades, which he did better than anyone else. Thus, I'd vote for Red A, who was also a great innovator early on when it came to maximizing the concept of the role player and the teamwork required to be a consistent winner. I loved the way he would draft future great players but first had them on the bench for a few years learning his system. People forget someone like Sam Jones sat on the bench for the first 3 or 4 years in the league. If the debate proves anything it is that a coach who has total control over personnel decisions usually comes out on top. And, on the contrary, I believe it is easier to get the best out of college players than pros with multiyear contracts, free agency, endorsements, etc. Get benched in college and the player kisses goodbye to a first round selection. In the pros, it probably brings a long list of trade offers.
— Howard Galer, Raleigh, N.C.
Red Auerbach won his 8 in row championships when the NBA only played 8 teams. He built his team around star players and kept them during his run. John Wooden played the final four with players changing every year. He won in the PAC-8 and PAC 10 league before being invited to the NCAA tournament. Both coaches are winners and did a fine job but John Wooden definitely had a harder task to produce a winner.
— Gregg Allan, San Jose, Calif.
John Wooden is the GREATEST! College Coach that is. One needs to remember that we're talking about 2 completely different sports. College basketball in the Wooden era allowed him to recruit the absolute best players to go to UCLA. As a direct result of his recruiting advantage, the NCAA changed the recruiting regulations limiting scholarships, scholarships per class and recruit and coaches visits. Also, during the Wooden era, the defending champs were only required to play in the Championship "TITLE" game, significantly reducing the likelihood of being upset in a preliminary round (which they didn't have to play!)! However, Auerbach had to play in a capitalist/pay to play system. His record's were based on shrewd drafting, trades, developing team chemistry and ability to lead "PRO" players. It's not even close. As good as John Wooden was, Red Auerbach was the best "pure" coach and manager in the game.
— Tim Raycob, Houston
With all due respect to Red Auerbach, UCLA coach John Wooden raises head and shoulders above all coaches including "RED" not only in winning championships but in molding young men. Unlike Red, he had alot class and was always gracious in defeat as well as victories, never rubbing victory in other teams faces. Giving credit where credit was due. He truly believed in the old saying “it’s not weather you win or lose but how you play the game.”
— J. Chavarria, Santa Maria, Calif.
• Oct. 29 | 12: 30 p.m. PT
Best coach in any sport?
The NBA lost one of its coaching legends on Saturday when former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach died of an apparent heart attack.
For more than 50 years, he was viewed in Boston as a larger-than-life persona, a diminutive genius always chomping on his victory cigar. He even had a tender side, as the Boston Globe’s Jackie MacMullan recounted — though that was offset by his single-minded focus on winning.
And deservedly so. Auerbach played a role in all 16 of the Celtics’ NBA titles, the first nine as a coach, the last seven as general manager. Those nine titles came in a 10-year-period, a streak unmatched by any other professional coach.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, only two other coaches have won nine titles, but they came with different teams — Phil Jackson won his NBA crowns with the Bulls and Lakers, while Scotty Bowman claimed Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, Penguins and Red Wings. Even more impressive? Auerbach’s eight straight titles from the 1958-59 season to 1965-66 is tops among NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL history. (Casey Stengel won five straight World Series with the Yankees and Toe Blake took the Canadiens to five straight Stanley Cups.)
It would seem clear that Auerbach had no peer among professional coaches — though it seems strange that the NBA championship trophy isn’t named after him while the winner of the Super Bowl gets the Vince Lombardi Trophy — but what about in any major sport?
Like college basketball?
When Auerbach died, we asked MSNBC.com readers to vote on their choice for the best coach of all time. It’s not a scientific survey, but it says a lot about who people remember as the best coaches. And the only guy who’s close to Auerbach right now is former UCLA coach John Wooden.
Wooden won 10 NCAA Tournament titles over a 12-year period, setting a standard no other coach has approached. (Former Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp is closest with four.) Wooden retired with more than 650 wins and won more than 80 percent of the time. Like Auerbach’s Celtics, the Bruins of the late ’60s and early ’70s were seen as unbeatable and it was cause for celebration when anyone did.
As a guy who prefers college basketball to the NBA, I would side with Wooden in the debate. It seems more difficult to ensure college students are the best each year rather than professionals and winning a one-and-done tournament (where luck plays a huge role) each year would be more difficult than a best-of-seven series, which usually results in the superior team winning.
But tell me what you think. Is Red Auerbach the best coach of all time or is it John Wooden? Or someone else?
• Oct. 27 | 6 p.m. PT
Once more on the Big 12
Sorry, lots to talk about with this league. It’ll probably be a different story once the games begin.
When Colorado coach Ricardo Patton announced this would be his last season — ensuring another new coach in the Big 12 sometime soon — it raised the question who his replacement would be.
As of Thursday afternoon, Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn had received 10 calls about the job. The biggest names being floated thus far are Denver Nuggets assistant Mike Dunlap, Larry Brown (mostly because he was a former Nuggets coach and Boulder resident) and former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery.
Montgomery, who was fired by the Golden State Warriors in the offseason, is a guy lauded by the Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy as the perfect college coach and obviously would give CU an immediate boost in terms of respectability and media coverage. In a league with so many young coaches, Montgomery would probably have the Buffs among the league’s elite before long.
I just wonder if he’d want the job.
Patton’s the league’s longest tenured coach whose record in 10 years is 177-140. He’s been to two NCAA Tournaments with marginal recruiting success (Chauncey Billups remains his biggest catch and that was in his first years). But he made at least $700,000 a season without having to produce overwhelming success. In fact, when Patton announced this season was it, it surprised school officials. They seemed to be ready for more mediocrity — and getting the football program back on track.
Someone like Montgomery would be too good for a program like Colorado. He’d be a better fit at a basketball-oriented school or a program that wants to make its mark, not one focused only on football.
• Oct. 26 | 5:30 p.m. PT
Best of the best?
My only question is how there aren’t any Indiana players on the list. Here’s the official explanation: “These top 50 candidates are comprised of returning players, although transfers, freshmen, medical redshirts and other players who excel throughout the season will be evaluated and considered for both the Midseason top 30 list and the National Ballot.”
It seems silly that D.J. White wouldn’t qualify now, though. He was the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2004-05, then sat out last season for a medical redshirt. He’s a known commodity and will likely be on the midseason list.
So why not just add him before the season? He’s a much stronger candidate than half of the list. Makes more sense to get it right the first time.
• Oct. 26 | 4 p.m. PT
Huggy Bear in the Little Apple
The Big 12 already had Bobby Knight. But it got another polarizing coach when Kansas State hired Bob Huggins.
Depending on your point of view, this can be good or bad for the league.
And that doesn’t even cover the plusses for K-State, which figures to be a huge attraction for fans and could finally get back to the NCAA Tournament. It hasn’t been since 1996.
The bad? Well, there’s a reason Cincinnati fired Huggins. Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly goes over all the reasons here (sorry if you’re not a subscriber), noting Huggins’ poor graduation rate, combustible temper and tendency to overwhelm his employers. Cincinnati was put on probation in ’98 for “lack of institutional control.”
But that’s the chance any school takes when it hires a successful coach who makes schools leery.
Texas Tech weighed those issues when it hired Knight in 2001 after he was fired as Indiana’s coach. In that time, Knight has won 63 percent of his games and been to three NCAA Tournament, including a run to the Sweet 16 in 2005. He’s had his flare-ups in that time — like his alleged incident with the school’s chancellor in 2004 — but most Tech officials would say the good has far outweighed the bad.
That’s exactly what K-State officials are hoping for. This interview with the Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury is classic Huggins: smart, funny, combative and true to his coaching principles.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
So what’s in store for Huggins? For the first few years he’ll have some success, an NCAA Tournament berth or two and an occasional big win. Three years from now, the Wildcats will be a perennial Big 12 title contender and top 25 mainstay — essentially, his Cincy program transferred to Kansas.
Why would it be any different? Huggins won’t change his ways simply because he’s at a new school, mostly because he doesn’t think he should’ve been fired from Cincinnati in the first place. Which is why he’ll be so fascinating to watch.
• Then again, smart schools find a good coach who also happens to be a good guy. Washington’s Lorenzo Romar deserves his new contract.
• Oct. 25 | 7 p.m. PT
He’s dedicated — and thinner!
USC told senior guard Lodrick Stewart he couldn’t come to practice weighing more than 215 pounds. Well, after tipping the scales at 217, he was barred from practice.
So he did something about it. And he didn’t mess around.
Stewart lost 12 pounds in 12 days by running five miles a day and sitting in a sauna. He missed nine practices, but now comes in at 10 pounds under what coaches asked.
He said it wasn’t hard to motivate himself, though. The Pac-10’s leading active career scorer wants to make a lasting impression for his senior season.
“I was dedicated to doing it because I wanted to be back and be a part of this. It’s my last year and I wanted to go out in style.”
• Bob Huggins is getting closer to making Kansas State an impact school. Prep star Bill Walker has been admitted to the school, but has not enrolled in classes. The school isn’t commenting if he’ll be able to play this season, though.
• Oct. 24 | Noon PT
Here’s a good example of a suspension punishing the student but not the team.
Illinois senior guard Rich McBride will miss the Illini’s first four regular-season games for a DUI arrest last month. That doesn’t include the Chicago Invitational, where Illinois will open against Miami (Ohio) and possibly play two more games.
Instead, McBride will miss games against Austin Peay (17-14 last season), Jackson State (15-17), Georgia Southern (20-10) and Florida A&M (14-17). Illinois shouldn’t lose any of those games and it won’t let McBride rack up any high-scoring performances. For a guy trying to make his mark, that hurts his non-conference stats a big way.
• Why can’t coaches select just five players on an all-conference team? The SEC has four unanimous first-team selections — Alabama’s Ronald Steele LSU’s Glen Davis, Florida’s Joakim Noah and Tennessee's Chris Lofton — and four more picks on the squad. And nine second teamers? C’mon, just pick two squads of five players each.
• On that note, this was the first time a Kentucky player failed to land a spot on the first-team.
• Duke has no timetable for when point guard Greg Paulus will return. Coach Mike Kryzyewski says it’s not months, “but it is weeks.” I maintain that in the long run it will be a good thing for the Blue Devils.
• Washington got good news about freshman center Spencer Hawes, though. He’s on track to return from a foot injury by Nov. 1, two days before an exhibition game against Saint Martin’s and well before their opener against Pepperdine.
• Oct. 23 | 11:30 a.m. PT
Hate may be healthy
Duke-North Carolina gets more than its fair share of coverage during the season, so forgive me for a preseason indulgence of talking about the rivalry.
Just finished “To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever (A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry)” and found it to be an entertaining read, and one that certainly lives up to its deck. (In fact, whoever wrote that part of the title was so spot on, they deserve a bonus from HarperCollins.)
Like everything involved with the Duke-Carolina rivalry, there’s plenty of hyperbole in the book, oodles of historical references and every quotable instance of people describing just how they feel about the whole thing, from fans to coaches to presidential hopefuls (John Edwards proclaiming that “I hate Duke basketball.”)
To most college basketball fans, none of this is new. Those of us who twice a year eagerly await the Duke-Carolina game have heard most of it before. But the author, Will Blythe, knows this and focuses his energy on his own personal hatred of Duke, who he can share it with and if it’s something that may eventually consume him entirely. He gets lost in his ramblings from time to time, but it’s refreshing to read a viewpoint from a non-sportswriter perspective — mostly because he’s trying to figure out why we fans do the things we do.
But beyond all of that, the thing that struck me most was how much the current coaches, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, are arguably the two most successful coaches in the game today, which is a direct link to their mentors, Bobby Knight and Dean Smith.
Knight will pass Smith’s all-time D-I men’s wins record in late December or early January. They never coached against each other in the same conference, Smith spending his career at Carolina, while Knight has gone from Army to Indiana and now Texas Tech. But it is amazing that two of the best coaches of all time — and the two winningest — were directly responsible for two of the best coaches today — and the two coaches in the game’s biggest rivalry.
At some point, Krzyzewski, who played for Knight at Army and was an assistant coach under him at Indiana, will pass Knight for career wins and possibly titles. (They both have three.) Williams got his coaching start too late to catch Coach K (he’s about 250 behind and they’re the same age) and probably won’t catch his mentor, Smith (at nearly 300 fewer wins, Williams would probably need to coach until he’s 70.) But Williams will likely end up with a higher win percentage than all three and another NCAA title would bring him even with Smith.
But that’s all stat talk and win projections and just stuff that comes as a result of the teaching that those coaches do. I’ve only met Williams (and am convinced he’s a genuine, good-hearted guy who’s also a great coach) so I won’t presume to go into their coaching styles, beliefs and how they handle their players. Read Blythe’s book for that.
I just plan on enjoying the games.
• Oct. 20 | 6:30 p.m. PT
This isn’t the old Big 12
When there are more 330 D-I men’s basketball programs, there’s gonna be changes every year. Last year, 61 teams changed coaches.
But no league went through bigger changes than the Big 12.
Mike Anderson (Missouri), Jeff Capel (Oklahoma), Greg McDermott (Iowa State), Doc Sadler (Nebraska), Sean Sutton (Oklahoma State) and the biggest import of them all, Bob Huggins (K-State), give the league new playing styles, lots of media attention and — deservedly — high expectations.
I have no doubts message boards are/will be buzzing with what fans expect for the season and once everything gets under way, either longing for the old coach or praising the new one. Probably at the same time.
But it does make me wonder if it’s good for the league to undergo so much turnover at one time.
After all, two of the new coaches come in to situations where the departed coach left under investigation to alleged wrongdoing (Oklahoma, Iowa State). Nebraska, never a hoops hotbed, had Barry Collier leave just months before the season began to be Butler’s athletic director. Sean Sutton replaces his dad at Oklahoma State after Eddie was forced to resign in the wake of a DUI charge. Missouri forced out Quin Snyder and K-State fired Jim Wooldridge.
None of those are good circumstances for a new coach. If it’s not an investigation, it’s rebuilding a program or dealing with embarrassment. And that makes for a top-heavy league — and fewer bids to the Big Dance.
Kansas will dominate. Texas and Texas A&M will be close behind. After that, there ain’t much.
Bob Knight will break Dean Smith’s wins record, but he may not get into the NCAA Tournament for a second-straight season. Oklahoma State has good players, but it’s fair to reserve judgment on Sean Sutton at this point. Baylor and Colorado are still mediocre, while Oklahoma and K-State have talent issues. As for Iowa State, Nebraska and Missouri? Don’t ask.
The Big 12 doesn’t need to be the ACC from the mid-90s where teams beat up on each other every week, but a little competition for the top teams is always good.
How else will the league (read: Kansas) get prepared for a national-title run?
• When March rolls around, Kansas will need to be as good as possible when it comes to its inside game. That’s what the Jayhawk players are trying to across to suspended center C.J. Giles, at least.
• As if the Duquesne program didn’t have enough problems, there’s this to consider: Just one player is taller than 6-foot-6. Can they schedule some Ivy League teams?
• Could the Patriot League earn two bids to the NCAA Tournament? It’s unlikely, sure, but some would argue it’s certainly possible. Bucknell has been great lately, but this is one of the loooooong shots.
• Oct. 19 | 1:15 p.m. PT
Will he get to 1,000 wins?
Bob Knight isn’t going anywhere.
“The General” (does anyone call him that anymore or am I the only one?) signed a three-year contract extension with Texas Tech, ensuring he’ll be with the school for another five years — when he’ll be 70. (It also means his son, Pat, won’t be taking over the team anytime soon.)
Not that he’s thinking about Smith’s record. He has other stuff on his mind.
• Few players will be happier to hit the court this season than UConn A.J. Price. Once one of the Huskies’ highly touted prospects, the point guard missed the 2004-05 season because of a brain hemorrhage, while legal issues in kept him out last year. As young as UConn is this season, it really is a fresh start for Price.
• They won’t be ’96 Kentucky, but anytime Rick Pitino says one of his teams will be a running team, I’ll pay attention.
• Better defense from Florida this season? Is that possible?
• Oct. 18 | 8:30 p.m. PT
From the board room to the baseline
When does basketball make good business sense? When you can charge someone $1,600 to watch a practice.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, now in the fifth year of his annual leadership conference with Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, let about 500 businessmen watch his Blue Devils practice on Tuesday (though the Raleigh News & Observer put the number at 300 businessmen).
OK, so the $1,600 was for a full conference, not just practice. But it doesn’t matter because the business world eats this stuff up.
Charlie Bobrinskoy, a conference participant who is vice chairman of Ariel Capital Management LLC, a Chicago-based money-management firm told this to the Associated Press: “The leadership skills that he talks about — teamwork, consistency of message, repetition, discipline — are all things that you can use in lots of different industries, not just basketball.”
Essentially, it’s a brilliant way for Krzyzewski to market himself in more than just the sports world. And he’s not the only one.
Coach K is one of several sports figures who can command big paydays from making speeches to companies or making inspirational speeches to large groups that can pay five-figure fees.
• Great piece by Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz on the fallout from Eric Gordon’s decision to change his commitment from Illinois to Indiana. Illinois and Indiana message boards have turned nasty, as one might expect. But when newspaper editors are writing columns on a “steaming pile of two-guard,” that does indeed cross the line from passionate to indecent. The good news? It sounds like it was just a moment of temporary insanity.
• Oct. 18 | 3:15 p.m. PT
Could he start right now?
Undecided if this is depressing or smart recruiting. Probably both.
USC received an oral agreement from 6-foot-6 guard Dwayne Polee Jr., the Los Angeles Times reported. The interesting part? Polee Jr. is 14-years-old.
Trojans coach Tim Floyd offered Polee a scholarship, which couple with Polee’s “love” of the school, was enough to secure a commitment. “I fell in love with it,” Polee told the L.A. Times. “It’s close to home, they have a new basketball arena and I like coach Floyd.”
I would think so. He did offer you a scholarship. Now he just needs to get that pesky high school diploma.
Polee didn’t get a rave review from his coach, though. Westchester coach Ed Azzam had this to say about Polee.
“He’s pretty good.”
• Oct. 17 | 1 p.m. PT
Duke fans, don’t despair
When Duke announced that sophomore point guard Greg Paulus was out indefinitely because of a foot injury, it wasn’t news that Blue Devils supporters needed to hear. But it could play a key role in March.
Duke lost four seniors from last year’s 32-4 squad, including starters J.J. Redick (who was national player of the year), Shelden Williams and Sean Dockery. Junior DeMarcus Nelson is the lone upperclassman with any experience of consequence, which leaves a lot on the shoulders of sophomore star Josh McRoberts.
Not that the Blue Devils will be in a heap of trouble. Like UConn, whose roster also is filled with freshmen and sophomores, Duke has freshmen who will make an immediate impact. The Raleigh News & Observer had a story in Saturday’s editions that focused on the four freshmen who are crucial: guards Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer, forward Lance Thomas and center Brian Zoubek.
Most of the focus this year will be on McRoberts, as it should. He’s an All-America candidate and would’ve been an NBA draft lottery pick had he declared last season. But these freshmen — like Paulus and McRoberts were last year — will be the biggest key to Duke’s March success.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has called Henderson the team’s best athlete (translation: even if he can’t always score, he’ll be one of the team’s top defenders), while Scheyer is slated for the role of spot-up three-point specialist. But without Paulus, those two, along with Nelson, will be asked to run the offense in the meantime, which should pay huge dividends later in the season.
To be clear, Duke badly needs Paulus to play as much as possible this season. He’s a natural point guard and will be the driving force behind this team. But anytime you can get freshmen on the floor early in the season, it makes them more comfortable later in the season.
And that’s something Duke fans will love to hear. Everyone else, not so much.
• Oct. 17 | 10:05 a.m. PT
Or, more accurately, a much-appreciated reader correction.
In one of my Saturday posts, I wrote that Eric Gordon originally committed to Illinois because Mike Davis left as Indiana’s coach. Which, to my embarrassment, is completely wrong. Reader e-mails informed me as much.
Mike, You may want to do some fact checking. Eric Gordon NEVER committed to Indiana with Mike Davis at the helm. In fact, he was an early commit to Illinois BECAUSE Mike Davis was the coach at IU. It was widely known that Gordon grew up an IU fan, but saw that Indiana was not a feasible destination under the direction of Mike Davis. Another problem with your story about IU and Eric Gordon ... DJ White will not be a SR next year, rather, he will be a JR, as he is a SO this year due to a medical redshirt for last year.
— Ken Allen, Evansville
Thanks, Ken. The post has changed, while the D.J. White correction also applies to our college hoops preview, which is fixed.
• Oct. 14 | 11:30 p.m. PT
A football intermission
Random thought of the day, relating to college hoops, college football and the need for a playoff system.
After Florida’s loss to Auburn on Saturday, the SEC doesn’t have any more unbeaten teams. So, if any two of the remaining unbeaten teams — Ohio State, USC, Michigan, West Virginia, Louisville, Rutgers and Boise State — stay that way, the SEC will probably be left out of the national title game.
Yet, the SEC is lauded as the best conference in college football. An excellent article in this week’s Sports Illustrated detailed as much (best to read it at the newsstand if you’re not a subscriber), though that’s one of the long-held tenets of college football. The South rules.
It also beats up on one another, which, as SI points out, usually hurts the SEC when it comes to landing a spot in the BCS title game because no one ever comes out of conference play with a perfect record. (Except for Auburn a few years ago, but don’t get me started on that. An unbeaten Tiger team should have been playing USC for the crown instead of Oklahoma, but since computers and polls rule college football, it didn’t happen. Though I still can’t believe the Sooners were beaten so soundly by the Trojan team. Pathetic.)
ANYWAY, it strikes me as funny that the best football conference around probably won’t have a team in the BCS title game. Yet, an SEC team is the defending NCAA Tournament champions, even though the SEC probably isn’t as good as the Big East, the Big Ten and maybe the ACC in basketball.
So does all this mean that college football obviously needs a playoff system so the SEC can have a team compete for the national title?
Nah. It just means Florida needed to take care of the football. Though a playoff wouldn’t hurt.
(One more random thought: The Gators’ loss also cuts down on the chances they’ll become the first team to be both men’s hoops champs and football champs at the same time. Florida, LSU and Ohio State are probably the current teams best at both sports, with Wisconsin and Texas close behind.)
• Oct. 14 | Midnight, PT
Where were you at midnight?
There’s nothing like free fun on a Friday. At least for hoops fans.
Kentucky drew more than 23,000 fans. Kansas filled Allen Fieldhouse (capacity: 16,300) again. George Mason, off its amazing Final Four run, had about 6,000 people attend. UConn, UNC and, probably most notably, defending champion Florida, all packed in the fans for Midnight Madness.
I haven’t been to a Midnight Madness in years, but something about them still elicits a sense of fun and excitement — even though they’re a little dull. (My prevailing memory from ‘Late Night with Roy Williams’ was Luke Axtell serenading the crowd with a country song and one Jayhawk — I think it was Ashante Johnson — wrecking his knee during the scrimmage and missing the season as a result. My buddy Jeff and I resolved to skip Late Night from that point on.)
But it doesn’t matter if they’re dull or the same every year or if you really don’t learn anything new about your team. That’s not the point. The idea of Midnight Madness is to get us excited about college basketball and your team’s prospects for that season. You get to see some dunks, some three-pointers and maybe see the players and coaches do some goofy things in the name of fun. (I know Tar Heel fans got to see do his shuffle. Always a treat.)
The point of this rant? (Since you probably didn’t need the lecture...) College basketball has started. Regular-season games begin in just over three weeks. And because of a some goofy skits, dunking and scrimmages I didn’t see tonight, I’m all giddy for the season.
Long live free fun.
• Oct. 13 | 7:45 p.m. PT
Sampson 1, Weber 0
As if Indiana didn’t have enough going for it on Friday — more on that in a later post — the Hoosiers managed to convince star guard prospect Eric Gordon to change his oral commitment from Illinois to Indiana.
What’s it all mean? Well, it must have been a blast to have been at “Hoosier Hysteria” tonight when he announced his decision. But beyond that, it gives IU a serious perimeter player and could be the school’s biggest story since Bob Knight was fired.
Gordon is rated the top prep prospect for the 2007 class by some scouts — though O.J. Mayo’s handlers would dispute that — and gives the Hoosiers an immediate replacement for seniors Earl Calloway and Rod Wilmont. But if D.J. White sticks around for another season next year, Indiana could give Ohio State a run for the Big Ten title.
• Oct. 13 | 12:15 a.m. PT
Madness ... nearing ...
Basketball practices officially kick off later today when teams have “Midnight Madness” showcases for fans and media. (Most coaches don’t view the late-night stuff as a practice, though, since it’s just a glorified scrimmage and a bunch of dunks. Still, it’s fun for those of us who can’t wait.)
Midnight Madness — as coined by Lefty Dreisell when he was the coach at Maryland — gets its showcase on ESPNU, when the network travels to three schools for a half-hour broadcast, starting at North Carolina, then switching to Indiana, with new coach Kelvin Sampson and ending with last year’s NCAA Tournament Cinderella, George Mason.
And it isn’t even at midnight in some places. Like last year, Kansas will open the doors to Allen Fieldhouse at 6 p.m., CT, then wrap everything up by 9:30 p.m.
So what to do when the madness passes and you have to wait another month or so until the games begin? Check out [shameless plug] MSNBC.com’s top 25 preview and come up with a few questions for our college basketball expert, Ken Davis. His column makes its debut in early November.
Jayhawk a synonym for McDonald’s All-American
Few teams have more talent than Kansas, even Florida and UNC.
KU sports four McDonald’s All-Americans — sophomores Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers and freshmen Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins — and perhaps the NCAA’s best small forward, Brandon Rush. Throw in juniors Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun and C.J. Giles and it’s a loaded roster. But, like UConn figured out last season, being loaded doesn’t always mean an NCAA title.
And that weighs on coach Bill Self. After all, this team has lost its opening NCAA Tournament game the last two seasons. But he tells the Lawrence Journal-World that having high expectations are a good thing — even if “it’s just something for fans to talk about more than anything else.”
Even if KU does deal with the expectations, how does Self find playing time for everyone?
“Last year we were playing 11 (early). I hope we will not (this year). I know what seven of them can do. Right now we are trying to implement a couple more guys. We know what we’ve got this year. Last year we were all new. We have a little better idea. It will take us a while to get everything hammered out.”
It won’t, as SI.com’s Luke Winn blogs, mean mimicking Villanova last year and using a four-guard lineup unless Kansas needs to hold a late lead. It’s not because the guards aren’t good enough to play at once, but because KU has too many big men to sit at the same time.
Of course, as most pundits will point out, these are problems any program would love to have. Well, except maybe Jim Calhoun...
• Oct. 11 | 6 p.m. PT
Florida is focused — very focused
Here’s the question: If you’re the defending national champion, do ever revel in that fact?
When Florida streaked to the title last season, much was made of the Gators losing three starters, which accounted for about 58 percent of the team’s offense during the 2004-05 season — and rightfully so. Not many teams, no matter how talented could replace that many key players and that much offense and still win the title.
But with their four stellar sophomores, the Gators started the season 17-0, had a midseason swoon, then breezed through the NCAA Tournament.
The one downside? Since few people knew how good the Gators would be, they weren’t touted as a favorite until late in the season. Even then, they’re weren't much more than a darkhorse candidate. And that gave the Gators a chance to play with a chip on their shoulder.
Now, more than six months later, Florida is taking the approach of last season doesn’t matter. When asked about using a different jersey in March, Joakim Noah the Gainesville Sun, “Why are you talking about this? We haven’t even made the NCAA Tournament yet.”
I can understand remaining focused on winning a title. And trying to not overlook anyone during that quest makes sense. But Noah’s quote strikes me as the type of “no respect” statement that the Gators rode to the title last season.
If the latter is true, other NCAA hopefuls better beware.
• The perfect transition from Florida? UConn. The Huskies lost just about everyone from last year’s loaded team — Marcus Williams, Rudy Gay, Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong, Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson — but coach Jim Calhoun isn’t worried. Last year, UConn had trouble against pressing teams because Williams was the only guy who was comfortable with the ball in his hands, which limited its offensive options. Calhoun says that’s not the case this year, which means the Huskies could struggle early, then be scary in March.
• St. Joe’s is revamping Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, building new locker rooms and coaches’ offices, improving the men’s and women’s practices courts, then expanding the seating of the 3,200-seat arena by at least 1,000 spots. Woulda been nice to have all that when Jameer Nelson was in school.
• Oct. 10 | 5:15 p.m. PT
More testing needed?
A day after backup Toledo center Haris Charalambous collapsed and died during conditioning drills, a preliminary autopsy report indicates that Charalambous died of an acute heart condition called aortic dissection, the Toledo Blade reports. It’ll take a few weeks before doctors can determine how long Charalambous had the condition.
Charalambous, 21, a Manchester, England, native, didn’t appear to suffer from heart defects last season, playing in 23 games. That makes a story like his even more scary.
And makes one wonder if there was anything that could have been done.
Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) is rare in high school athletes, affecting 1 male in every 100,000 athletes and 1 female in every 300,000 athletes, though the rate does increase the older athletes get. Ex-Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis, who died in 1993 at age 27, is suspected to have died from myocarditis, a disease process often triggered by a viral infection. LSU legend Pete Maravich was retired and playing in a pick-up basketball game when he died from an SCD.
But the most famous SCD remains Hank Gathers, the former Loyola-Marymount star of the late ’80s and early ’90s, who once led the NCAA in scoring and rebounding. He collapsed on the court during a WCC Tournament game in 1990 and died thereafter. But Gathers’ heart differed from Charalambous’ particular aortic condition in that Gathers knew about his condition — hypertrophic cardiomypathy, or an enlarged heart — and took medication for it.
When Gathers died, the question was raised if elite athletes were tested enough for conditions that could lead to an SCD. Ten years after Gathers’ death, this report indicated that more than 850 NCAA schools required formal screening with a family medical history and physical exam before participating in varsity intercollegiate sports. In 1997, the American Heart Association issued guidelines for SCD screening.
When doctors do determine what caused Charalambous’ death, it could help further specify guidelines to target SCD chances in athletes — but that’s being hopeful. The fact is, no matter how rigorous the screening becomes, Charalambous won’t be the last athlete to die from a SCD.
And that’s just a sad part of sports.
• How do you make a Washington Huskies’ fan freak out? Tell them prize recruit Spencer Hawes, a 7-foot McDonald’s All-American, is having knee surgery. How to make them relax? Tell them it’s “just a little setback.”
• N.C. State fans, however, got some bad news of their own. Andrew Brackman may not be the Wolfpack’s best player, but new coach Sidney Lowe could’ve used the experienced presence inside.
• The Missouri Valley Conference proved itself as a league to be reckoned with after its NCAA Tournament last season. Four teams received berths and two — Wichita State and Bradley — reached the Sweet 16. This season, Creighton and Southern Illinois figure to be the two to watch, though the Salukis already are having issues.
• Oct. 9 | 4 p.m. PT
Crean of the crop?
Here's one for my buddy Casey, who spent parts of Saturday (at our friend Mick's wedding in Milwaukee) convincing me that Marquette will be one of the Big East powers this season, even though leading-scorer and three-point marksman Steve Novak graduated.
He has a point.
Like most programs, Marquette opens its season this Friday with a version of "Midnight Madness" where fans are introduced to the squad and are treated to a dunk contest, a three-point contest and a scrimmage.
For a team that was 20-11 last season and handed UConn its most surprising loss of the season — until George Mason played the Huskies in the Big Dance — I was of the opinion that Novak was the driving force behind that team last season. But Casey reminded me of guard Dominic James, who could be the Big East's top playmaker, that Wesley Matthews and Dan Fitzgerald can also shoot the three and that the recruiting class is one that befits a coach of Tom Crean's caliber.
But mostly, I'd focus on Crean. Few coaches are better defensive teachers and it seems like Marquette could use a big season after playing under the radar ever since its run to the 2003 Final Four.
One question: Dwyane Wade will have his jersey retired on Feb. 3. What took so long?
• Kentucky's 2005-06 season wasn't what coach Tubby Smith or the Wildcat faithful expected. Sure, Kentucky won at least 20 games (going 22-13), but struggles in the SEC and a first-weekend exit from the NCAA Tournament aren't acceptable conclusions in Lexington.
One thing that should make this season more bearable is having junior center Randolph Morris all year. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Morris — who flirted with the NBA draft after his freshman season and showed little improvement when he was finally ruled eligible to play as a sophomore — is ready to lead the way for Tubby's boys.
Morris said always answering questions about his eligibility last season wore him out and was a huge pain. If Morris and guard Joe Crawford, another heralded recruit who hasn't lived up to expectations, can play up to form, the Wildcats should be able to make a run at the SEC title, but it'll be a surprise if they pull it off.
After all, this isn't the SEC we're all used to. LSU is coming off a Final Four appearance, Bruce Pearl guided Tennessee to a No. 2 seed in last year's Big Dance, Alabama has one of the country's top point guards in Ronald Steele and I know those Gators are gonna be pretty good.
But Kentucky should resemble its usual self. If not, Tubby won't be around for the 2007-08 season.
• Oct. 4. | 8:30 p.m. PT
Hold on a sec, I’m going into surgery...
I guess it pays to have a sense of humor at all times.
Former Arizona State and Michigan coach Bill Frieder has prostate surgery on Monday, but it seems like he tired to not focus on it. Just days before, he sent ASU sports information director Doug Tammaro a text wishing him luck on Saturday (the Sun Devils’ football team lost to No. 14 Oregon), but also held another tidbit.
Scott Bordow of the East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune wrote that the surgery was successful to remove a cancerous growth in his colon. But if it wasn’t, Frieder was set to live out his remaining hours in Las Vegas with “some wine, women and whiskey. I’m going to have one hell of a time.”
Now that he’s OK, Frieder still plans on going to Vegas on Oct. 15, but only to watch the Suns play a preseason game against the Lakers. No word on the wine, women and whiskey.
• Preseason rankings, part II: Sportsline.com is doing their rankings of the top 10 players at each position this week. Wednesday, it was small forwards, which had two freshmen at the top. I’d like to say that’s surprising, but small forwards in college basketball have become one of the best places to put talented newcomers because it lets them stretch the defenses by utilizing their quickness on the wing and can often hide poor defense.
Still, I would’ve liked to have seen Kansas’ Brandon Rush a little higher. Maybe Julian Wright will be atop the power forward rankings.
• Oct. 3 | 10:15 p.m. PT
The man you loved to hate
J.J. Redick may have been the most hated Duke player since Christian Laettner, though there wasn’t any one specific reason. People focused on his style of play, his school and the fact that Dickie V spent most of his time lavishing attention on the sharpshooting senior.
(OK, that’s true for just about any player at Duke and any of the big-time players in college basketball. Let’s face it: Vitale loves everybody.)
But leave it to a fellow Duke grad to point out another reason: he’s white.
Grant Hill tells the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi that people could hate Redick because of his skin color, which, as Bianchi points out, isn’t a new phenomenon. People loved to hate Bill Laimbeer, Larry Bird and a host of other white players.
Will people hate Redick in the NBA? Probably. They still hate Laettner. Then again, he was one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People.” Jealousy, er, hate is a lot easier when a guy’s good looking, too.
• MSNBC.com’s college basketball preview comes out next week. If you can’t wait that long to read about who’s No. 1, No. 2, etc., USA Today is ready for you. If that’s not enough, run out to the newsstand for the plethora of preview magazines. My favorite? The Sporting News’ print edition is always great.
• Oct. 2 | 8:15 p.m. PT
Game on! ... almost
The first games don’t start for another month, but I couldn’t wait that long to start this blog.
My goal for “Beyond the Arc” — and this will be the one and only time I refer to the blog’s name in the actual blog — is to serve as a selection of links, short analysis and occasional random thoughts on the game. Like the other blogs on MSNBC.com, it’ll be updated nearly every day, though I’m not sure how much content will be included in each post. I read plenty of blogs, but will be feeling my way along to start this one.
But that’s enough of the obligatory introduction stuff. Onto the hoops.
• Practices start Oct. 14 and it’ll be interesting over the next month to see what freshmen become assertive, what freshmen have some make early goofs, (though Kansas’ Sherron Collins didn’t make his on the court), what rehabilitation progress some players have made and how key sophomores like UConn’s Craig Austrie are progressing.
• Then again, there are those stories that are not game related but deserve our attention. I know I’m not the only person who hopes Duquesne’s Sam Ashaolu keeps making his rapid recovery from a shooting on Sept. 17. Doctors aren’t yet sure if he’ll be able to play basketball again, but we’re sure to see dozens of Duquesne stories this season, both relating to the Dukes’ season, what happens to the accused shooters, and how it will affect the campus. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that, like with the alleged rape with the Duke lacrosse team, race is playing a factor because school officials are wary of what to say and what not to say.
One we should pay more attention to is how Duquesne coach Ron Everhart deals with this season. Everhart hasn’t even coached a Dukes game yet — he replaced Danny Nee in the offseason — but he’s already shown himself to be capable of handling everything thrown his way, despite the incredible stress that comes with a situation like this. With any luck, the Dukes can have some success this season after going 3-24 last year. The program could use some good news.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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