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UD finally hires Mike Davis, per Goodman

For as f-ed up a search as a school could possibly have, that’s a good outcome. Would have been a good outcome if they’d gotten him in April.

Been to the Tournament 3 times in 6 years at Texas Southern…notable in a one bid league. He’s not going to have a cakewalk recruiting instate but I’m guessing he’ll manage to get good talent…he’s done that everywhere he’s been. Will be interesting to see if Izzo opts to schedule them at some point, as his relationship with Davis is vastly superior to others they’ve had in that job.

Big Ten Spring Thoughts

Some quick thoughts…

– I think the league’s depth will be better than last season. It almost has to be but honestly, it really should work out that way. To me, the two worst teams on paper are Rutgers and Illinois and they’re not without talent.

– The top will be down some from last season. Doesn’t mean a team can’t make a deep run (see Michigan after a 5th place regular season finish as an example) but again, on paper, I don’t see a top 5 or maybe even top 10 team nationally anywhere in the conference…at least not in the preseason.

– Everyone focuses on guys lost to early entry from MSU, M, OSU, Maryland, etc. but the team which got hit hardest IMO is Penn State in losing Tony Carr. Bring him back and I’d have been sorely tempted to give them a decent shot at winning the league…and I think they’d definitely have contended for it at the very least. Without him, it’s a serious step down.

– Nice, solid recruiting year around the conference. Not many obvious one and done candidates (Romeo Langford at IU and maybe Jalen Smith at Maryland) but a lot of good classes. MSU and M with highly rated deep and large groups but that’s just where it starts. IU landed some nice players before Langford (I think IU is going to be a legit title threat this year if their freshmen are anywhere near expectations). Maryland has a strong five man group. Illinois has six kids coming in. OSU and Northwestern have good four man classes. All of these (7 schools) are in the top 30 nationally per Rivals. Rutgers (!) and Minnesota are in the top 50 and Purdue and Iowa are just outside it with smaller classes.

MSU fans are thinking the 18 class should be a solid, foundational type group where you’ve got a lot of guys who should play early but few threats to leave immediately, so they should help you, in the words of Mike Brey “get old.” That’s true IMO but I think it’s going to be true for several teams in the conference.

Nova with one of the more dominant NCAA runs in history

Assuming this holds up, they’ll have won every game by double digits, with the closest (again, assuming this holds up) a 12 point Elite Eight win over Texas Tech and a Sweet Sixteen win over WVa by the same margin. Two blowouts in the Final Four.

I’ve been very much on the “everyone sucks” bandwagon but given how Nova has played over the last 3 weeks, it’s tough to say that about them. I think they got better defensively and that offense is something else of course, as it has been all season.

I think they got a little break with KU beating Duke, in that I would like to have seen Nova have to handle Duke’s size. I’ve thought all year that was their weakness, that a team with really good size (meaning not just the size but size that can play) would really test them, and I think Duke’s big kids would have done that. The thing is, I don’t think Duke could have beaten them because I have a feeling Nova would have carved that zone up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

The thing is, we really didn’t get to see them have to deal with quality size very much. The Big East had a number of solid teams but very little in the way of really good post players…nowhere near what say the Big Ten had.

Thoughts on Mack and Capel

Mack first…seems as if this is the job he was holding out for all along and when it came open and he was contacted, he leaped at it. Remains to be seen how hard Louisville gets hit by the NCAA around the FBI stuff (if at all…and “if at all” absolutely remains on the table), and that probably determines how quickly he gets his thing off the ground there.

I think it’s always interesting to watch a coach make the jump from a program like X, where they’re mostly relying on kids who are outside the top 50, to a bigger program where the name alone gets them in the game. Guys like Matta and Miller made that jump easily and I would expect Mack will follow. In fact, he’s the guy at that school who really elevated the recruiting profile. He won battles against Big Ten and other high major programs for guys like Bluiett, Scruggs, etc. So we know he can recruit against the big boys. With the platform Louisville offers, I would think he’ll have them right back more or less where Pitino did in terms of profile and results, though I don’t know if there’s anyone they could have gotten who is on Pitino’s level as a pure coach. That’s not a knock on Mack as much as it is just an acknowledgment of how good Pitino is/was.

Capel is going to be more of a crapshoot IMO. He gets a lot of credit for Duke’s move into one and done territory and their success in landing those kids, and he was a good recruiter at Oklahoma. I wonder, though…Pitt isn’t really an easy place to recruit to in basketball. Pennsylvania outside of Philly isn’t really a great basketball talent producer, so your home turf isn’t going to keep you competitive in the ACC. The success that Howland and Dixon had was based largely on second tier recruits from the East who they got to buy into a toughness and defense approach. They weren’t loading up on McDonald’s AAs. Yet Capel has been a guy who’s rep is based largely on his ability to reel those high end types in (though admittedly he’s the guy who got VCU’s program rolling before Shaka Smart, and he did that without top tier players). Will he change the profile at Pitt and land those high end guys or will he try to adapt to recruiting a different kind of player and build it in a way similar to Howland and Dixon?

Everybody sucks

Watching games tonight around the country and I’m left with the distinct impression that nobody is really any good. That’s an exaggeration of course, but there are more “top line” teams with major flaws than in any recent season, IMO.

Duke’s not getting to a Final Four. I’ve said it multiple times this year and watching tonight, the message gets driven home to me yet again.Two reasons, both on display tonight in a game which was closer than it should have been due to Carolina veterans suddenly playing with their heads up their asses late:

1. The zone simply will not cut it against teams with good guard play (helps if they’re vets but not necessary) and some shooters. The odds are very, very strong that they’ll run into such a team by a Regional final.

2. Defensive rebounding. Duke is such a great offensive rebounding team that this gets completely overlooked. MSU is  having some vulnerability there and they do…45th in the nation. You know where Duke is? #117 and that was before giving up 932 offensive rebounds to Carolina tonight. It shouldn’t be a surprise…poor defensive rebounding tends to go with heavy reliance on zone defense and you see it in a game like tonight. Carolina is a really good offensive rebounding team…#3 in the nation coming into tonight…but that was a flat out tattooing they administered to Duke.

I’m not saying Duke goes out in the first weekend (they might, though), but I just cannot imagine them getting the kind of gift draw they’ll need to win 4 straight in this thing, not with the vulnerabilities they have.

Virginia is a really solid team in many ways, but do they look the part of a #1 overall to anybody? Anybody? They’re not as vulnerable on the defensive glass as Duke is, but it’s a problem area for them, so that’s one thing to watch. Bilas mentioned it tonight when talking about them maybe seeing an opponent like…Michigan State, in an Elite Eight type of game. He thinks that’s what it’ll take to beat them. I agree that type of team (an MSU, a Cincy, WVa) could be a problem. I also think this…to get to a Final Four, I believe that the vast majority of the time, your team better have 95th percentile guys, meaning that you have players who when faced with big situations can go out and just make a play that few others cans. That can manifest athletically or via skill, but it’s mostly the former. I don’t know that I see that guy on UVa’s roster and that’s been the problem in other recent years where they’ve been essentially this kind of team but unable to break through with a deep March run. Offensively, they do one thing really well…not turn the ball over. Beyond that, not a great offensive team. They’re 90th in eFG%, not a great 2 point shooting team, don’t offensive rebound or get to the line a ton. Who’s that guy who can just go out and make a play no one else on the court can in an Elite Eight game when the chips are down? Guy? I don’t see it.

Carolina has some nice elements…experienced guards and a veteran forward they can count on in Maye. Great offensive rebounding team too…but I just don’t see it on the offensive end. You look at the shooting numbers and they’re a whole lot of not good. Really, the offensive rebounding and relatively solid TO numbers is what’s keeping that offensive rated where it is…they do not shoot it the way you’d expect from a KenPom #5 offense. I have a feeling they probably run into someone along the way who does a decent enough job keeping them off the offensive boards to take them out.

I’ve been way, way down on Kansas all year. Nothing’s changed. They’re playing without the big kid now. They think he’s back for the Tournament but it’s an MCL sprain, so who knows whether that’ll be the case or how effectively he’ll be able to move if he does play. The idea that this bunch is likely going to end up with a 1 seed is an indictment of the entire process the Committee uses. Offensively they’re pretty good but this is a suspect team defensively and like Duke, they are prone to getting hammered on their defensive glass. I am very interested to see what 8/9 draw they end up with…if it’s a team with any kind of size and ability to offensive rebound, I’m going to be very tempted to pick them to not make it out of the first weekend.

West Virginia? Again, really weak on the defensive boards and I never, ever have faith in that style over the run of a 6 game tournament.

Anyone believe in Arizona? Kentucky? Auburn just got beat today by Alabama. Xavier has somehow had a teflon coating on what I think has been a performance level which does not reach what I normally expect from a 1 or 2 seed and they got beat today by Providence. Nova probably wins the Big East but their close has been less than spectacular.

Obviously some of these teams are going to make a run. My point is that it’s one of those years where I think it’s pretty obvious that the Final Four will be comprised of flawed teams, since that’s all I see out there. It’s also why I think if you’re any of the four Big Ten teams who will be in this thing, you have no good reason not to feel as if you’re fully capable of going on a run yourself…because everybody’s flawed. Nobody’s great.

Hell of a year for Spartan athletics

Everybody knows what the football team did in flipping the script to go 9-3. Men’s basketball is having a tremendous start to their season. However, there’s been a lot of other good things going on in the AD.

– Men’s soccer suffered a heartbreaking loss to perennial power Indiana in an NCAA quarterfinal game this weekend via penalty kicks. Still, what a year for them.

– Women’s volleyball has made it to the Sweet Sixteen in their NCAA Tournament.

– Hockey, while not back where everyone would like it to be, seems to be showing life for the first time in several years.

– I suspect women’s basketball will likely have another fine season. They’ve taken a couple of losses but one was to UConn, so that really shouldn’t even count.

The MSU athletic department has a lot to be proud of.

 

 

On The Topic Of Cheating 

I’ll make the same book recommendation I’ve made many times over the years if you want to have a great understanding of the scene as it existed in the 1980s, which was the heyday of the “wild west” stuff in Detroit and really in the Big Ten as well. Since the mid/late 90s, the Big Ten has been generally very clean but in the 80s you had a LOT of cowboys out there riding the range. The book “Raw Recruits” was published in 1990 and you couldn’t ask for a better picture of that time. Alexander Wolff and Armen Keteyian (who went onto a TV career with ABC) were the authors and they got to the nitty gritty. Want to get a better sense of what Syracuse is and has been today? This book covers Rob Johnson, one of the first guys to get tagged as a “bag man” due to the bags of money he’d deliver on behalf of interests connected to the Cuse program. Rich “Dr. Detroit” Daly, an assistant under Norm Stewart at Missouri, gets a lot of time as well, and you can guess why he got that nickname (that’s one distinction between that era and today…today it would be highly unlikely for a coach to be directly involved the way Daly was back then in cheating, payoffs, etc.). There’s a great sequence in that book where Jud is quoted about going down to Detroit Mackenzie when MSU was looking at Doug Smith and seeing his transcript…it was riddled with whiteout, writing in pen as opposed to typed grades, etc. The way Jud describes it in the book, that kind of thing was not unusual in Detroit during that era…a complete free for all. Good stuff as well on Landon “Sonny” Cox, the former coach at Chicago King High and a huge power broker of the era. What’s interesting is that you see almost no discussion of AAU influence, because it really didn’t exist. That book should also serve as a check on those who think solving these problems is as simple as eliminating or curbing the AAU scene…it has always been with us, it’s just that the middlemen were coaching HS teams back then.

Another amusing (in retrospect) portion of the book is when the authors talk to the next generation coming along in Detroit, most notably one Chris Webber. Lots of talk about how the new kids weren’t down with getting used, bought and sold that way and it would be different with their generation. How about that?

Anyway, I believe it’s out of print but used copies aren’t hard to find and seem to be pretty cheap on Amazon (I just looked). It’s a hell of a read and a real snapshot of what that world once was, and it gives one a grounding in what’s come along since then.

Career epitaph for Rick Pitino

He’ll never coach again, that much I’m certain of…not unless he wants to get back in the game at a pro level and at his age I cannot imagine that’s in the cards. In about 90 minutes, his career ends.

He was the coach of a Providence team (led by Billy Donovan) clawing its way to a Final Four. That’s what got him on the map. He had a run with the Knicks which was OK but he had the bad fortune to be there at a time when the Pistons and Bulls were in ascendancy, so his team was never more than an Eastern Conference afterthought. He then rebuilt UK from the ashes of the Eddie Sutton Fed Ex scandal and won a national title there. Left for the Celtics, missed out on the chance to draft Tim Duncan, and never got that franchise back on solid ground. He then replaced Denny Crum at Louisville and won another national title and had the Cards consistently relevant on a national level for most of his 16 years.

As a coach, a pure coach, I think he was among the more innovative and best of his generation. You could make a credible argument that he was THE best in the college game during his era (there are others, including Tom Izzo, for whom you could also make such a claim, but Pitino is definitely in the discussion). His full court pressure stuff with the Knicks was mostly a sideshow, but it worked very well at UK. I’ve been continually impressed with the way his Louisville teams in recent years could switch defenses, even within a possession, and be effective. That is INCREDIBLY difficult to teach and get a team to execute but he did it as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. I think during his time at Louisville, while he certainly had a lot of talent, he never had recruiting classes generally on par with Cal’s UK or Duke or even Kansas and yet he competed with those schools (I think his talent at the Ville has been roughly similar to Izzo’s at MSU…very, very good, but not the true “best” in the game on a consistent basis).

Yet he just couldn’t play it straight. He’s going to be remembered most for the scandals which have engulfed his program over the last few years…his affair (which has no bearing on him as a coach but does contribute to how people view him as being essentially amoral), the prostitution scandal and now buying Tugs Bowen. That’s how history is going to be written about Rick Pitino…it’ll be the lead paragraph in his obituary. It should be. I put him in a category with Larry Brown…absolutely brilliant basketball minds who just could not play the collegiate game straight. Unlike Brown, he could never quite make his thing work in the NBA and that’s a shame for him, because that’s probably where he belonged.

Tim Miles gets a much needed break re: Isaac Copeland

NCAA ruled that he’ll be eligible for the beginning of the season rather than having to wait until the semester break. With the Big Ten schedule the way it is, that would have meant missing two league games as well as the non conference portion of the schedule.

Copeland was a top 50ish recruit out of HS who started at Georgetown. He’s a 6’9″ PF who averaged 11.1 ppg and 5.4 rpg as a soph there before his junior year and a back injury and general disillusionment hit. The guy who recruited him there is now on Miles’ staff at NU, thus the transfer.

Big deal because with Ed Morrow leaving for Marquette, the Huskers have a serious need at PF. If Copeland can be the guy he was two years ago, that’ll go a long way toward addressing that issue.

 

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