The “Curse” has returned…Kent State, Indiana and Stephen F. Austin all lost last week in games that they should have won…okay, maybe not the Hoosiers. But still, all the good vibes that last week’s “Stretch” gave these teams is now gone. So, who will be given the “kiss of death” this week?
Seven Day Savior (Team): New Mexico Lobos
Steve Alford apparently DOES know what he’s doing. The Lobos have stayed in serious contention for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament by defeating UNLV on Tuesday night. Alford, who landed in Albuquerque after his stint with Iowa, (by his own choosing, by the way), has been able to mold the Lobos into an image of what he was as a player; hard-working and fundamentally sound. This is a team with an RPI under 50, 23 wins and a 10-5 record in the Mountain West Conference. With the dearth of deserving teams on this year’s at-large bubble, it’s highly conceivable that New Mexico will make the NCAA field with a win at lowly Colorado State this weekend. The Lobos beat CSU by 40 earlier this season and Colorado State is winless in conference. With Iowa looking downright awful for many games this year, Alford is definitely having the last laugh on those who wanted him to leave Iowa City. The fans of New Mexico are glad they have him.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Michael Rogers, Valparaiso Crusaders
Rogers is an unheralded freshman from Jamaica by way of New York City. He was the least recruited of Coach Homer Drew’s 2007 recruiting class. Up until 10 days ago, Rogers barely saw the floor, averaging less than 2 points per game. The Crusaders, who just completed their first year in the Horizon League, were in the midst of a serious slump when starting wing Sam Haanpaa, Valpo’s best shooter, was lost for the year with mononucleosis. Enter Rogers into the starting line-up. Since his insertion, Rogers is averaging over 10 PPG and 7 rebounds per game. He went off for 21 points and 12 boards this past Saturday against Wright State, a game that clinched a home game for the Crusaders in the Horizon League Tournament, (which they won against Wisconsin-Green Bay on Tuesday). Rogers is an incredibly athletic player who simply needed time to adjust to the system that Coach Drew is running. Rogers, who is 6’6”, is another in a long line of foreign players that drew has brought to Valpo in his years on the bench. He may be the best before he’s done. Rogers and the Crusaders face Wright State again on Friday night in the Horizon quarterfinals.
News of the Week: Bobby Knight…ESPN Analyst
That’s right, folks; the man who has made no secret of his disdain for the media is now one of the hated “fourth estate”. Knight, who recently resigned as coach of Texas Tech, will join the ESPN college basketball collection of on-air talent to do commentary on the NCAA Tournament. The question is whether Knight is doing this because he is turning over a new leaf, (unlikely), whether he’s doing it because he hates being out of the national conversation at all, (a bit more likely, but not much), or whether there is some other reason. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Knight is doing this on purpose almost as a way to thumb his nose at reporters in general, but especially those in the print media who seem to have been, he thinks, the bane of his existence. Knight’s a brilliant basketball guy and he does well when he’s interviewed on television, so this may be a very good fit for him. It also keeps him in the public eye in case he really does want a chance at landing another coaching job.
Game of the Week (The one you DON’T know about): UAB at Memphis
The ACC, Pac-10 and Big East all have games this week that will all determine their respective conference championships. However, all the teams involved know that they will be among the highest seeded teams in the upcoming NCAA Tourney. Because of the relative weakness of Conference-USA, however, both Memphis and UAB need this game badly. Memphis needs a victory because a single loss to a C-USA team stands a good chance of knocking the Tigers from being a 31 seed in the Big Dance. UAB needs the game even more. They aren’t sure if they are even going to get an invite to the Dance. UAB appears destined for the #2 seed in the C-USA Tournament, where they will more than likely face Houston in the conference semi-finals. They have to at least past that game to have any chance of getting into the NCAAs, unless they knock off the Tigers in Memphis. This may not seem as far-fetched as it sounds. Tennessee exposed some serious weaknesses in the Memphis system. They don’t shoot well from either the outside or the free throw line. Teams have now seen that and UAB has the personnel to perhaps take advantage of those weaknesses. Remember, it was less than three weeks ago that UAB had Memphis all but defeated when they met in Birmingham. Oh, and because of the first meeting, there’s a bit of bad blood now between the two teams.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Stanford Cardinal
You may ask how a team that is 24-4, is playing for their conference championship this week, is #17 in the RPI and is looking at a top 2 or 3 seed in the NCAAs can be considered, “under the radar”. Okay, well, can anyone out there name for me more than two starters for the Cardinal? Can you name their coach? What is Maples Pavilion? You get the point. There is no team in line for a protected seed in this year’s Big Dance that has been less talked about than the Cardinal. Part of the reason they are so unknown, or at least so unnoticed is that they aren’t pretty. They play a very defensive style of basketball, focusing on the shot blocking and rebounding of a pair of seven-foot twins; Robin and Brook Lopez. They give Stanford among the best frontlines in the country. Brook is the more skilled of the two, especially on the offensive end, but Robin provides better rebounding and defense and is often match-up on the opposing team’s best post player. The guards know their roles and the bench does a good job of resting the starters. Last year, Stanford got run off the floor by Louisville in the first round of the NCAAs. Don’t count on that happening in this year’s tournament. And for the record, the answers are; Lawrence Hill, Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson; Trent Johnson; the homes court of the Cardinal in Palo Alto.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Kevin O’Neill, Arizona Wildcats
O’Neill was hired to be Lute Olson’s stand-in when Olson left the sidelines because of personal matters early in the season. As Olson began to become more of a visible presence at the McKale Center, whether it was to hold meetings with the players, work in his office, or use the training facilities, Arizona Athletic Director, Jim Livengood decided to offer O’Neill a pseudo-offer, stating that O’Neill would be the head coach of the Wildcats if Olson decided to retire at the end of this season. The idea was that O’Neill, who has coached at Marquette, Northwestern and in the NBA, would move back to an assistant’s position, much like he was before Olson took the leave of absence. This was, in fact, O’Neill’s second stint as an assistant with Olson. Then the problems started. Rumor had it that Olson began talking to the players and criticizing the schemes that O’Neill was running, specifically the set plays on offense and the man-to-man defense that O’Neill espouses. O’Neill, not surprisingly, wasn’t happy. So he and Olson haven’t spoken much since this started and now come sword the Livengood is trying to gracefully show Lute the door by getting him to retire. Bottom line is that O’Neill is in real danger of losing the job at the end of the season whether Lute returns or not. O’Neill didn’t leave Olson alone nor did he make it publicly clear that what Olson was doing was not right. Instead he tried to walk a middle ground that may have alienated some players. If Olson comes back, O’Neill is as good as gone. If Lute retires, O’Neill may not want the job now anyway.
By the way, the Pac-10 could realistically be looking at as many as four job opening this off-season; Oregon State, Oregon, California and Arizona.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: “Bargaining” for a Bid
As the calendar has turned to March, the talk has inevitably turned to the so-called “bubble” teams…at least in the world of college basketball. With the coming of the various columns in both print and on the Net about the “bubble” and the various “resumes” that particular teams have, coaches and even college administrators of those teams have begun to lobby the NCAA Tournament selection Committee regarding the reasons why their schools should have their teams announced as being chosen for the NCAA Tournament. This practice has been going on for years but has really picked up steam in the last decade as the Internet has become more and more of a powerful tool with which to dispense information, (or misinformation). I, for one, have never understood why coaches, etc. feel the need to do this. Let’s face it; it’s not as if the Committee actually listens to the lobbying that happens. The Committee has already secluded itself from the rest of the real world as they get ready to watch and debate the variances of Championship Week. The committee members watch games, often with the sound off, so that they can make up their own mind about the merits of a particular team. So, when Jim Boeheim basically begs the committee through television interviews as to why his mediocre Syracuse team should be included in the field, (and then bemoans the fact that they aren’t selected), the comments are falling on deaf ears. Why essentially do people waste their breath trying to talk a group of men into a particular decision when they don’t listen anyway? You might as well go and bang your head against a wall. In the past few years, CBS analyst Billy Packer has really been rabid in his attacks on what he believed were mistakes the committee made. The reaction of the person being interviewed, (this year it will be Committee Chair Thomas O’Conner of George Mason), has universally been one of surprise and shock, as if they had never expected the questioning at that level. Know why? Because it is one of the first times they’ve heard that kind of criticism because they don’t listen to the lobbying through February and March. This is just the practical argument, never mind that coaches who do this come off as whiners, babies and self-serving, (which in this case I guess I understand). I hate to pick on Boeheim, but he has been guilty of this multiple times in the past 10 years and he has a reputation as being a cry-baby and even a sore loser. Is that perception unfair? Absolutely! Did he bring it on himself? Absolutely! And he is far from the only one. A coach’s job is hard enough as it is at the collegiate level without having to worry about lobbying what is really a group of deaf men in Indianapolis. Besides, isn’t a coach’s job really to get his team to a point where all of this is a moot discussion anyway?