Wednesday, May 20, 2020

My kind of recruiter

I don't know much about Maryland coach Gary Williams except that they won the national championship while he was there, and he also stacked up seven Sweet 16s there and at Boston College. 

I did not follow his teams while he was coaching and there are aspects of his story that I do not like, but I did like his approach to recruiting. He went almost exclusively after less-heralded players and developing them. Dave Odom, former South Carolina coach, said of him that he "has made a living off of the player who is maybe one or two tools short of the complete package (say, height or leaping ability), but who competes hard and plays with a chip on his shoulder" (think Rashad Jones-Jennings). He refused to associate closely with the local AAU coaches because of their questionable reputations. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

When the Explorers sailed the College Seas

The Atlantic 10 is the eighth-ranked conference, which puts them in some good company, but outside the list of heavyweights. And La Salle was ranked 9th in the 14-team A-10. All of which means that the Explorers are not exactly on everyone's watch list of teams that ought to achieve great things these days.

However, just before Mr. Russell and San Fransisco took the college basketball world by storm, there was Tom Gola and La Salle. As a freshman, he led the Explorers to the 1952 NIT championship. Then they won the NCAA in 1954 and were runners-up in 1955. They made it to the Sweet 16 in 2013.

How did La Salle do it? Well, largely on Gola's capable shoulders. He averaged 20.0 ppg and 19 rpg over his four-year career, and is the all-time leading career rebounder in NCAA history, with 2201 boards.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Twirling for finger control

Most basketball fans have heard of Pete Maravich, but many have forgotten that Niagara's Calvin Murphy was just a step behind Pistol Pete in scoring during that period. And what they are even less likely to know is that Murphy was a championship baton twirler.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

Baldknobbers' Paradise

The War Between the States understandably made law enforcement an iffy thing, and thus criminal elements posing as quasi-militia groups (e.g., the James-Younger Gang) were almost impossible to control for a while.

Making college coaches obey the recruiting rules is seemingly impossible, since most fans don't care what they do as long as they win. With the confused environment brought on by the Covid virus, things should be even worse this off-season. Who knows what will emerge when the dust clears - if it ever does.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Scarlet Fever

Quite a few fan sections, especially student rooting sections, have nicknames, e.g. Texas A&M's Twelfth Man. I have never seen one called Scarlet Fever (for a team with red as a color), but I think it would be a good one.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Daddy saw Bob Pettit play

My father was at LSU working on his Master's Degree during the time when Bob Pettit was a three-time All-American there. He was the first Tiger in any sport to have his number retired. He went on to be a two-time MVP in the NBA. It must have been a lot of fun to see him play.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Dartmouth's day in the sun

Except for sometimes Penn and Harvard and Princeton, the Ivy League is not very good these days. And it has not been for a long time. After all, the academic standards are pretty high. And Dartmouth had not made it to any sort of post season since 1959, until they lost to Canisius in the CIT in 2015. A half century is a LONG dry spell.

But believe it or not, there was a time when the Big Green were a powerhouse in basketball. They lost NCAA championship finals games in 1942 and 1944 to Stanford and Utah, respectively. And two other times they went to the Elite Eight in the 1940s. Plus, WAY back before any of the tournaments, the Helms Foundation named a national champion, and in 1906 they picked - you guessed it, the Dartmouth Big Green. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances: after all, in those days there was a slight international conflict sucking the basketball talent into foreign lands.

But they did it. The sports writers were talking about them, and no doubt they had a swagger about them. Dartmouth old-timers can say, "I remember when" (if there are any of them still alive).

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Walton's best game

William Theodore Walton III averaged 20.3 ppg, 15.7 rpg, and shot 65% from the field, so picking out a "best" game in a sterling career like that is making a stretch. (Those of you dreamers who think Michael Jordan was the best college player can forget it.) However, it would be hard to see anyone playing a better game than the one Walton played against Memphis State in the 1973 NCAA Finals.

In only 33 minutes ("only" because how could he get those numbers in 33 minutes?), he hit 21 out of 22 shots from the field, pulled down 13 rebounds, and had 2 assists and a block for good measure. And with 6-9 Larry Kenon getting 20 points and 8 rebounds for Memphis, it is not as though there was no talent on the opposing team. I actually watched that game live, and I was not a UCLA fan back then, so I did not appreciate what I was watching until years later when I looked at the statistics. I got to see live one of the most amazing performances in college basketball history.

And, for the record, no, even Bill Walton was not the best college player of all time. That award clearly goes to Kareem.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The biggest man

We might sometimes get into a discussion of what it takes to constitute a "big man" in a college line-up. However, there is no argument about the Biggest Man. Suleiman Ali Nashnush. At his peak, he was 8' 1/2" tall, although he was "only" 7-10 when he played professional basketball. He was born in 1943 and died in 1991. He was from Libya.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Makes today's jackrabbits look pretty bad

David Robinson made a commitment to the Naval Academy and he stuck with it. You could argue that he made a commitment to the nation, and stuck to it. That makes the current crop of transfer portal hoppers seem pretty self-centered.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Good, a candid coach

Hey, I like new Wake Forest HC Steve Forbes. Wake center Olivier Sarr has put his name in the transfer portal. UK is supposed to be one of the teams after him. So Forbes says to Sarr, "Why would you want to go to Wake for three years and graduate from a place like Kentucky?"

Zowweee! This guy has some zing about him. I like it!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Pioneers are still at it

Denver was a national power in ice hockey when their basketball program was in the SBC, and they still are. I do not remember when they left the SBC, but they won another national championship in 2017 (their 8th). Plus they went to the Frozen Four in 2016 and 2019. By any measuring stick they are a national power in the sport. And we knew them when.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Ray Meyer's Final Fours

Because it has been a while since DePaul has been relevant, and perhaps because they do not have any national championships to their credit, I fear that Ray Meyer tends to be underrated in the minds of fans in the list of greatest coaches. But after all, his teams won 724 games, and DePaul was the NIT champion back in the days when that meant something (1945).

There are some unique features of Meyer's career. First, he never was a head coach anywhere but at DePaul. Second, he is one of a very few coaches to take a team to the Final Four in his first season as a head coach.

Third, Meyer may have the longest time between Final Fours of any head coach. DePaul went in that first season (1943), and then also in 1979. Thirty-six years is a long stretch to maintain that level of excellence.

Of course, DePaul had some low spots during Meyer's long tenure. From 1967 through 1975 they did not go to any kind of postseason. On the other hand, on top of those Final Fours, they had twelve 20-win seasons.

Meyer finished his career with a run of seven seasons of at least 21 wins, and all but one of them were at least 26 wins. From 1980 through 1982, he had three straight seasons in which he lost only two games.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Late game lineups

Late in the game, when free throw shooting is at a premium, a lot of teams are in trouble because they don't have enough players who are good FT shooters. We ought not to have that problem, although we might have to play smallball a little bit to get there. Here are our best FT shooters:

Nowell 87.9%
Stulic 86.9%
Lukic 76.6%
Coupet 76.5%
Johnson 72.7%

That is a pretty solid group, even if there are not true bigs. And Johnson and Coupet are our #2 and #3 rebounders, respectively.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

More than Bird

No one goes to the national finals with just one player, so we know that Indiana State had a good team in 1979 - more than just Larry Bird - even if they were not from a power conference. Bird did have a double/double, but there were two other players who scored in double figures.

And even though that was their only run as far as the Sweet 16 at the D1 level, they did have considerable success at lower levels.

The Sycamores were the NAIA national champs in 1950, and the runner-up on two other occasions, plus the D2 runner-up in 1968. And they went to the NAIA Final Four on three other occasions. So, Indiana State was accustomed to the bright lights of post-season, although it had been a while when the Bird Man led them to within a few points of a national championship in 1979.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Double tandem of big men

Enjoy it, fans, because the double pair of big men that Little Rock should have working this coming season is very rare at our level. This past season (what there was of it), Ruot Monyyong just missed averaging a double/double, plus shooting 56.9% and blocking 62 shots. Kamani Johnson averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds per game, and led the team with 94 offensive boards.

BUT year before last, we also had a tremendous pair of big men. It is just that it was a different pair. Nikola Maric averaged 10.7 points and 4.5 rebounds, plus he shot 42.9% from the arc. While he was doing that, Kris Bankston was setting a school record with an unbelievable 81.3% from the field, 8.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 34 blocks for good measure.

The good news? all four of them should be available this coming season.

Assuming all four stay healthy and play somewhere near their capabilities, what this means is that we have two pairs of big men to throw into the fray without having a significant letdown in performance. So the big guys can go as hard as they can go, all the time, and we have TWENTY big man fouls to give. And, of course, that is not even counting Admir Besovic, the biggest of them all, who gave us some quality minutes early last season.

Get ready, Little Rock. This town has never seen a stable of big men like this. Probably the Sun Belt has never seen it.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Been there before

Georgetown is one of the programs which, like Arkansas under Eddie Sutton, seemed to come out of nowhere with the arrival of John Thompson, Jr. That is not true. Arkansas had been to the Final Four twice in the 1940s. And Georgetown had been in 1943.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

How we beat Purdue

So how did we beat the Boilermakers, considering we were behind late against a very good team? Well, Josh Hagins got hot at exactly the right time, of course. But digging into the stats, what did we do right that resulted in one of the biggest wins in Little Rock history?

It is not because we shot well as a team. We shot 39% from the field for the game, which is pretty bad. And we shot 33% from the arc for the game, which is not horrible, but still not really good. And we only hit 57% from the line, which is bad.

Did we win the battle of the boards? No, the bigger Boilermakers beat us by 7 rebounding.

What we did, of course, was to score more points, and we did that because we took 15 more shots from the field, because we had 15 offensive rebounds and they had 18 turnovers. The TV commentators talked a lot during the game about Purdue's point guard problems, especially late in the game, and we just happened to have arguably (although not definitely) the best point guard in our history. And that particular guy, who was the guy on the spot at the critical time, had six assists and zero turnovers - and made 8 of 10 free throws.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Challenged 3s

Part of the rationale for a reliance on the three-point shot is that is counts half again as much as those inside the arc, which is true. However, if you watch games, there is an inordinate number of shots from outside that are freebies - unchallenged shots where the shooter is wide open. I am not enough of an Xs and Os man to know if that is at least partially by design because of needing the defenders on that side of the court to cheat to the inside to help.

Further, the argument is made that you only need to shoot 33% from the arc to equal the point production of 50% shooting from inside the arc. And that is true - IF you totally leave free throws out of the equation.

But, given the inordinate (it seems to me) number of wide-open threes that are shot these days, a question I would like to have answered is the relative shooting percentage of challenged and wide open threes. How much does the average shooting percentage from the arc drop if the defender is at least there and trying to challenge the shot? I suspect that major college coaches know that number, but sometimes the defense played by their teams doesn't reflect that fact.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Our first good team

Thankfully, those of us who have been fans for more than a couple of years have seen some very good teams - championship caliber. And the old-timers remember the glory days of the win over Notre Dame. But when did Little Rock first leave our mark on the basketball world? It was in 1943.

If you thing things are crazy and out of kilter during this virus, imagine what it must have been like during those years. December 7, 1941 was the attack on Pearl Harbor, which thrust us into the largest conflict in world history. A large portion of the base of young men were being whisked through basic training and sent overseas.

But, Little Rock had a basketball team. At that time we were Little Rock Junior College, and our best effort to that point had been a .500 season (9-9) in 1932, our second season. And during the 1937 through 1939 seasons we were a combined 1-33. It would not be until 1964 that we got over .500.

We had no team in the 1940 and 1941 seasons, and then a team, but no official coach in the 1942 season. Finally, for the 1942-43 season we hired or appointed Herman Bogan as head basketball coach, and a little history was made. We can imagine that he had to piece together a team from among the lads who were not in the military; but he did pretty well with what he had.

The Trojans were 21-10 during that season, which would be our only 20-win season until Ron Kestenbaum led the Trojans to a 23-6 record in 1983. It is only a blip on the recollections of Trojan fans. (I assume that most of them are not even aware of it.) But it was quite an accomplishment, nonetheless.