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.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

How do we become an at-large team?

This group has the potential to be one of the better teams Little Rock has produced. The 30-win group were mentioned in the Bubble Watch conversations (although they ended up not needing it), so they were almost good enough, at least. So what has to happen for this group to get there?

1. Schedule tough. We know we should be one of the best teams in the Belt, so we need to load up on games where we can get some notice if we should win. If we lose, we have lost nothing. Walker needs to be very aggressive this season and take whatever is offered. If we don't play them, we can't win them.

2. Markquis Nowell has to continue to improve. He is a remarkable ballplayer in his ability to make things happen. Now he has to get to where the things he makes happen are consistently the right things. He was second in the league in assists per game, so he gets the ball to the right place. But he was also second in turnovers. If he can get his assist/turnover ratio into the 2:1 range, which is what you like to see in a starting point guard, this team's offense should be running on high octane. All that means that Markquis' focus has to shift just a little away from scoring.

3. Our perimeter defense has to improve. Opponents shot 34.6% from the arc against us, which, while not awful on our part, is certainly not very good. In today's game if you can't stop the three, you will have problems. And this team, with Monyyong and Co. looming in the lane, should be one that can put lots of pressure on perimeter shooters. We can afford to gamble and not concentrate quite so much on help defense inside because we have some big erasers waiting to swat shots.

4. We need another Barky. We have several options in 3-point shooters who can get the job done. That is not our problem. What we lack is someone who strikes fear into the hearts of the opposition, who changes how they defend - whom they have to watch every minute he is on the court. Someone who shoots over 40% and who is not afraid to shoot it. Nowell is close, but I had rather have his attention on running the team. Stulic starts at the Shooting Guard spot. If he begins next season like he finished this one, he could be the man.

5. Monyyong and Johnson are as good a 5/4 combination as you are likely to find in this league. What we need (and what we probably have) is two guys good enough so that there is not any drop-off when you rotate in the second team. Year before last Maric and Bankston were close to being that good, although in different ways. If they both get back to where they were, opponents will be in a world of hurt when they have to rest their big men.

Five things. Get them done - or even most of them - and ESPN and CBS will be talking about us as teams that could make the Dance even if don't win our tournament. And that does not happen very often in Sun Belt Land.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The ideal roster

The ideal situation would be for your best players at each position never to need rest and never to get hurt, so you never had to substitute; but that is not reality. So, if I can construct a roster the way I would like to, it would have two at each position, plus three more at point, the 3 and the 4, since you can never have too many point guards, and the 3 and 4 are flexible positions that can often side either direction.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Did we play well?

It always disgusts me to see the Kentuckys of the world wildly celebrating after they beat the SWAC teams of the world. It just seems out of place. Really good teams ought to have more class than to carry on after they barely beat a team they ought to have drawn and quartered by halftime.

Did we win? That is what goes into the record book, but that really is the wrong question to be asking. If you win by playing poorly to beat a bad team, big deal! If you play an excellent ballgame, but still get beat because the other team had a once-in-a-lifetime shooting night, then there is nothing to be ashamed of.

"Did we win?" is the wrong question. The right question is, "Did we play well?" Get the right answer to that question, and the other one will take care of itself.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Will we ever have a real homecourt advantage?

The powers that be did us a favor by making the Jack Stephens facility to be of limited seating. At least it is not a cavern like Alltel was. If you get 3500 people in the Jack and spread them around pretty well, it has a nice "full" feeling.

One of the most enjoyable things to witness in college basketball is when a program that has been down for a long time begins to get rolling and the fans start getting genuinely excited again. We are witnessing that happening at Rutgers these days.

For perspective, Rutgers last went to the NCAA tournament in 1991, so it would have been 29 years if they had gone this season, which seemed likely. That is a full generation, meaning there are a lot of New Jerseyites who cannot remember when Rutgers was relevant in basketball. BUT you give a bunch of college-age kids a reason to get excited, and they are happy to oblige. That is especially true in a blue collar state when the team they are rooting for is a blue collar team that makes it living on defense and rebounding. And there are a lot of old-timers around who remember when Rutgers went to the Final Four in 1976.

The Scarlet Knights play their home games at the Rutgers Athletic Center (affectionately known as "The RAC"). This season it became one of the toughest spots in the country for opponents to play  The Knights were 18-1 at home, and that included wins over #20 Penn State, #22 Seton Hall, #23 Illinois, and #9 Maryland.

The reported seating capacity of the RAC is 8000, and Rutgers reported an average home attendance this season of 6764, with the last ten games being sellouts, after it became obvious that the Knights were legit. I hope we will get to witness that at the Jack one of these days - when we have a REAL homecourt advantage and opposing teams dread coming to Little Rock.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Conference rankings for last season

The top six (per RealtimeRPI):

Big East
Big 12
Big Ten

That is a little interesting. First off, good for the Beast! making the grade over all the football schools. The best conference was the one where basketball matters most. Second, it looks like the Pac-12 is on the road to recovery since it made the top half, and that is good for college basketball. We need a west coast presence.

The conference with the current malady is the Big Ten, which had been consistently among the best. And what has happened to the vaunted ACC? I thought basketball was king there. Maybe they have gotten so big that the bottom feeders are pulling them down. Notice that the top two conferences are the ones who deliberately stayed small (ten or less). The SEC is still struggling, despite the high-profile coaching talent that has been brought in.

The best of the rest was the AAC. SBC was 14th, which is pretty good for us. The two on the bottom were the two HBCU conferences, SWAC and MEAC. And things are not going to get any better for them after COVID knocked everything in the head.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Not sorry for them

San Diego State just fell out of the preseason Top 25 - because Malachi Flynn declared for the NBA. I don't feel the least bit sorry for them. They stole him from Washington State in the first place. If a guy will bail out for you, he will also bail out on you; and then you get what you deserve.

There is a character issue hidden somewhere in all this moving around.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Chris Mullin

During my YouTube basketball fest while live sports are shut down, I have seen several games from the old Big East. Which means I have seen Chris Mullin and St. John's play Georgetown. Those were classic games!

For some reason, Mullin is one of those great players that I tend to forget. Perhaps it was because his team never won a championship, and he was not flashy. He was just one of those players with a great shot who had a wonderful feel for the game and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. And when you are playing Patrick Ewing and Georgetown, you had better be.

Mullin's game was understated. He just seemed to float around the court, without any sudden movements. He seemed to know where he would need to be next and was already headed there a couple of plays ahead of time.

He would have been a great 3-point shooter if they had had it in his day. Instead, he shot 55% overall, which most 6-6 small forwards do not. His free throws were nearly automatic - 85% for his career. He averaged 3.6 assists per game for his career, along with 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals. Nothing overwhelming in any one category - just pretty good in everything. Plus 19.5 points per game over his four years. Plus he averaged 37 minutes per game over four years of college play, so he was on the court a LOT. He threw the ball in from the end line, and then brought the ball down the court, even though he was not the point guard. Just a very good basketball player.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Why have a coach?

I watched a video of a bizarre game from 1974 between Tulsa and Oral Roberts. If the venue had been a local playground instead of a college arena, it would have fit right in. No offensive scheme. No defense to speak of. Tons of turnovers. It literally looked like what you would expect to see in a pickup game on an outdoor court.

That brings up the question, What role were the coaches filling? They were sending in subs. They had recruited the players. But as far as bringing any structure to the game, they might as well have been in the locker room. It was weird.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Why not the G-league?

Baseball player routinely go to the minor leagues. It is rare for anyone to jump directly into the majors, whether he comes out of high school or college. Why not have a minor league for the NBA and use it like MLB does? How is that wrong? If the players are good they eventually find their way to the major leagues, and their progress can be speeded up by the home club. I think it is a good idea that will allow players to be in college that want and need to be in college, instead of creating malcontents who disrupt the process.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Guard the baseline

Back when I was a kid, the thing that would get you the biggest chewing out was letting someone drive the baseline on you. Coaches would very forcefully plant a foot right by the line and tell you that if you are there, they can't get past you without going out of bounds. And if you did it during a game, it was guaranteed to get you jerked out of the game with a tongue-lashing by the bench, in front of the crowd. You don't hear much about that these days, though.

However, I did see someone comment on it on one website recently. The argument was that if you have a shot blocker on your team, then you definitely want to force the drivers away from the baseline toward the inside, because your big guy can pick them up there and prevent the shot. Makes sense to me. And we have a definite shot blocker - at least one. So no more baseline drives, Trojans!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

UCLA's best

The Fansided site undertook a tough job - naming UCLA's best team from among their own players. They took the easy way out: they called Bill Walton a power forward and put him in the lineup alongside Jabbar. Oh, well, I might have done something like that as well if the job had been mine. But I still say that Lew Alcindor was the best college player ever, and therefore the best team ever was going to be one of the teams he was on.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Vaughn Williams

Another Colossus in the Little Rock program was Vaughn Williams. Again, probably few of us got to see him play, since his career was 1979-83, but his numbers say he was one of the best guards we have had.


In two of the categories that define the point guard position (assists and steals), he is by far the career leader at Little Rock. He had 259 steals, and Fish in 2nd place had 184. He had 534 assists and Fish had 472. And you can throw in 259 blocks for his career, plus an 11.6 career scoring average.

I think that Williams sat near me at one of the games when the alumni are recognized, and I started to go speak to him, but didn't; and I really regret it. Old-timers need to know that they are remembered.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Larry Johnson

If you go by the numbers, Larry Johnson is by far the best inside player Little Rock has ever had. I cannot say "big man," because I do not know how big he actually was, but his notable work was done inside the lane.

6th Career Points
1st Career Rebounds
1st Career Rebounding Average
3rd Career FG made
1st Career Blocked Shots

As you look at his numbers, what is really impressive is that some of the numbers are in a class by themselves. He has 265 career blocks, and second place is Muntrelle Dobbins with 158. Third place is 100. He has 1315 rebounds. Second place, again is Dobbins with 1010. He averaged 14.1 rebounds per game over his career. So, in the numbers that reflect the blue collar work done down on the inside, he stands alone in Trojan history.

He played four full seasons for the Trojans, and he averaged a solid double-double each year. For his career he averaged 14.5 points per game and 14.1 rebounds. In his sophomore season he had a 14.4/16.8 double/double with 82 blocks thrown in for good measure. He must have burst on the Little Rock scene like a tornado, because as a freshman he averaged 13.3/15.5 with 113 blocks. For good measure he had 53 assists and 26 steals.

I would love to talk to someone who remembers his playing days. He must have been really something.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Good year for the little guys?

The Score just came out with their Way Too Early Top 25, and it is fairly representative of the other such predictions so far this off-season. (Let's hope the off-season doesn't become the season.) The thing that first catches you eye is that three of the top four teams are from non-Power Five conferences: Gonzaga, Creighton, and San Diego State. All of those are familiar names in recent years, but none of them is from a football power conference. Then you throw in the fact that #5 is Villanova from the Big East, and the scene is really top-loaded with programs that are not football powerhouses. Of course, it may not end up that way, but part of the fun of being a sports fan in a free country is that your guess is as good as anyone's - until reality happens.

Friday, April 10, 2020

John Paul Jones

Most of us know of the famous United States naval hero by this name, with his famous quote, "I have not yet begun to fight." What many Americans may not know, however, is that there was an athlete by that name who was prominent in our sporting history. He was an engineering student at Cornell and did not even make the track team until his last year there.

However, in 1913, Jones set the first world record in the mile to be ratified by the IAAF (4:14.4), thus he was the first "official" record holder and the first of only four other Americans to have held the mark, along with Glenn Cunningham and Jim Ryun.

The current mile record holder is Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco at 3:43.13.

John Paul Jones ca1911.jpg

Thursday, April 9, 2020

1973 UCLA Bruins

Yahoo has just finished a GOAT contest for the best college basketball team, and came up with the 1973 UCLA Bruins. It is hard to argue with that conclusion, especially considering Bill Walton's jaw-dropping performance in the finals. However, for the record, when asked which of his teams he thought was the best, Wooden himself picked one of the Alcindor teams, I forget which one.

It is a little amazing that fans of this era still appreciate what those UCLA teams accomplished. You really had to see them to believe them.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


I love it when players have colorful nicknames. At the moment I am watching Charlotte play Marquette in the 1977 Final Four. Charlotte's star, of course, was the legendary Cornbread Maxwell, one of my all-time favorite nicknames. He was a good player, too. There was steak to go with the sizzle.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Prejudice against defense?

Offense sells tickets; we all know that. But people who are supposed to know the intricacies of the game ought to appreciate defense. So why was Ruot Monyyong not Player of the Year in the SBC? He was good enough on defense to garner DPOY, and his offensive numbers were not shabby. So why was he not POY? Is the top offensive player just automatically granted the POY title automatically, and no one digs any deeper to see if there was anyone more deserving? I think Ruot got robbed.

I also think John Fowler got robbed his senior year when the same thing happened. Again, it was not as if Fowler was useless on offense. His numbers were very respectable. And his on-the-ball defensive abilities were widely admired. But he did not get POY? I wondered why not back then, and I still wonder. Why this prejudice against defense?

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Where did we improve?

Obviously we were a much better team this season than last, but exactly where did we improve, statistically speaking.

Our opponents' FG% went down, so our overall defense improved.
Our FT% was significantly better.
We had two legitimate rebounders, against only one (sort of) last season.
We had more steals and blocks.

So, boiling it down, our defense improved, and it showed. At times we were very good defensively.

Friday, April 3, 2020

GOAT bleed-down

One interesting phenomenon to observe during this offseason is the large numbers of GOAT polls and conversations. That is natural, since we are currently in a vacuum as to what will happen and when.

One thing I have noticed when there is a GOAT poll regarding the greatest college players is that people frequently color their assessment of a player's college career by his pro career. The prime example is Michael Jordan. Certainly he would be in the discussion as the NBA GOAT, but college? He averaged 17.7 ppg and 5.0 rpg. Are these the sorts of numbers that would qualify a player to be the Greatest of All Time? But fans quickly forget that, although he was good in college, he certainly was not the Greatest in college.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The ultimate embarrassment

Kentucky lost a recruit to - Rutgers? Four-star center Cliff Omoruyi is going to the Scarlet Knights, and Kentucky Sports Radio says he was a "one time Kentucky prospect." I am sure Sleezipari will object that the grapes were sour, but that was his own folks saying that.

Rutgers is the anti-Kentucky. They are blue-collar. They emphasize defense and rebounding. In addition to Omoruyi, next year's recruiting class contains a trio of lowly three-stars who fit Steve Pikiell's system. But Omoruyi is a New Jersey kid, and he stayed home. He took the steak over the sizzle. Let's hope he makes the KY folks live to really regret his choice.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The forgotten aspect of recruiting

From reporter Jerry Carino on SBNation:

"The most underrated, misunderstood behind success in college basketball is fit. I don't think the casual fan who gets caught up in recruiting rankings appreciates how vital that is. Rutgers was a monument to fit this past season, because [Coach] Pikiell puts the concept first and foremost in his program-building."

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The silver lining

We all had rather have skipped The Virus this year. But there was a silver lining. It inadvertently emphasized the regular season, because that was all there was to emphasize. There are even conversations about who was the National Champion, just like folks used to argue about the Helms Foundation title. That is a rough way to have to go to accomplish it, and it likely will not last, but it has happened.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Jay Bilas got it right

He named Lew Alcindor as the greatest college player ever, and indicated that it was not really even a close vote. I agree. Those of us who watched him play saw firsthand just how dominant he was.

"Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is the greatest college player EVER. Period. No reasonable debate. To even suggest otherwise is foolish."

"He's the greatest offensive weapon in the history of the game," Bilas said. "He led UCLA to three national championships and let's be blunt, it wasn't because the other players were so great. They were very good, but it's because they had Lew Alcindor and everybody else didn't. Wherever Lew Alcindor went to college, they were going to win three championships and he was going to be the most outstanding player, wherever he went."

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Steve Pikiell COY

Rutgers' Head Coach Steve Pikiell has been named Coach of the Year, and it is hard to see anyone else deserving it more. They finished 20-11 this season, and would have had a chance to win more games if the post season had happened.

Consider the magnitude of this accomplishment. The Scarlet Knights last went to the NCAA Tournament in 1991 - that is 19 years if you are counting. The last time they had a winning season was 2006. The last time they had double-figure conference wins was 1991. He turned the RAC into one of the most intimidating home court advantages in the nation.

And he returns 8 of his top 9 players for next season.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Good year for the little guys?

Pre-season polls are very unreliable, particularly in this surreal off-season. However, NBC's first offseason poll lists four teams not from the Big Six conferences: Gonzaga, San Diego State, Houston and Richmond. So, looks for the little guys to make some noise this season, since they did not really get a chance to do it this past year.

Monday, March 23, 2020

It's always the coach

Last year after their national championship, virtually all the pundits picked Virginia fairly well up in the pre-season rankings. This is not usual. It is hard to forget the year before. However, I thought they were unduly optimistic. When a team loses three players of the caliber of those the Hoos lost, who were not freshmen, it is going to take more than a raw freshman to replace them. The rankings, it seems, were a tribute to Coach Tony Bennett. "Any team coached by him is going to be good, no matter who is playing," the sages were saying.

As it turned out, they were perfectly right - it just took a while for it to come true. Virginia is like Wisconsin in that they develop players. Their recruits are generally not one-and-doners, and they stay, and they get better under some of the best teachers in the game. By the time the final AP Top 25 poll was issues in this truncated season, Virginia was back up to 16th, after having tanked out of the poll earlier in the season. Jay Huff started playing like a monster in the middle, and the Hoos went on a late-season winning streak.

So, pundits, I will say that you were right, and I was wrong. Virginia was that good, but we just had to give Coach Bennett time to do what he does best, which is to teach basketball.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Double disappointment

It could be possible that the virus will not only have knocked all of us out of the enjoyment of the post-season, but it may do considerable harm to certain programs. Key players may move on before their eligibility is finished. It may hinder recruiting significantly. We are poised upon the possibility of one of the best seasons we have ever had, and possibly THE best team we have had. So far we have lost a couple of subs, but what if a couple of key starters decide to move on because of all the uncertainty? That would be a blow we would not likely soon forget.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Grim resolution

This year's team got robbed - of the chance to do something special. We did half of it, i.e., being regular season champs. But we had a chance to go to the Dance and maybe even make a little noise there. It won't happen because of the virus.

So, we were robbed. The team might become depressed, or we might get a fire in our guts because we were robbed and come out determined to make it happen next season. And since we return all five starters, we should be the heavy pre-season favorites. And this time no excuses - unless we all catch cholera.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Why this team was special

I think we can accurately say that this team was special, at least within the context of Little Rock. After all, we do not have many regular season championships to our credit. But what made us special?

If have often said that you cannot have too many true point guards or centers on a roster, simply because they are the hardest players to find. By the end of the season, we had the strongest complement of big men I have ever seen in this program. I think we can safely say that we were dominant inside, at least on most nights. We did not have any too many point guards, but the ones we had were good.

So, we had a good bracket on both ends of the roster, and that was our strength. These days shooters are a dime a dozen, and athletic mid-height sorts likewise. But a big man who can actually play is hard to find.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Some solace to the Hoos

Yes, the season did get cancelled. Just when they were getting going. But at least the Virginia Cavaliers can grab a silver lining out of the current confusion: they get to be The Reigning Champs for TWO years.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Bad programs with a good sport

Some schools are just not known as being sports powerhouses, for whatever reason. University of the Ozarks is such a place. I was told that their enrollment this year was around 900, which is up considerably from the 600 that it was for years. Obviously, even at the D-III level, there are just not many bodies to choose from.

But occasionally an inept sports program will have a pretty good sport. That was the case with Ozarks baseball, until the Bug axed all college sports. They were 11-5 overall and 6-3 in conference in the early going, which is a pretty good record by baseball standards.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Load up the schedule!

At our level, there are two ways of getting to the NCAA tournament: win the conference tournament (which is unusual) or get an at-large invitation (which is downright rare). Even in a good year the odds of winning the tournament are against you, but they are much better than those of getting an at-large. Those have been at a real premium from the Belt.

So . . . if you think you have even an outside shot at an at-large berth, then load up your non-conference schedule as heavy as you can, even if you have to play on the road, play 3 for 1 swaps, or whatever. You can't win them if you don't play them, and the times to play them are the times you think you might actually win them.

This next year is one of those years. Let's do it.

Monday, March 16, 2020

National Champion - Kansas

This blog officially declares Kansas to be the 2020 Regular Season National Champion. And this particular season, I am as official as anyone. So there!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Residual attendance effect

I will be very interested to see what this virus shutdown does to next year's attendance at college basketball games. I will not predict, because I do not know. Will folks come out of the gate in a rush because they were deprived of March Madness. Or will they shrug and say, "Oh well, I had to miss last season, and I survived it, so I'll try it again"?

The thing we forget is that for a large percentage of people, the Tournament IS college basketball to them, because that is the only time they pay any attention to it. So they just skipped the entire season.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The virus

OK, I will be the jerk, that politically incorrect individual who says it. I think a panicked reaction is always the wrong reaction, and, like the rest of the country, the NCAA acted in a blind panic with regard to the NCAA tournament, and especially about cancelling everything for the spring. If this had been the black death or cholera, then maybe, but it is not. There, I said it, and I meant it.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Rutgers got the rawest deal

The Scarlet Knights had not been to the NCAA tournament since 1991. That is 19 years. None of the players could have remembered that far back. And it looked likely that they would get an at-large bid. And then the panic-mongers shut down the tournament. Life just isn't fair sometimes.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A very real danger

Habits are easy to form, and some of them form quickly. Right or wrong, not everyone looks kindly upon the NCAA's panic-driven cancellation of the end of the season, and so they bid the court goodbye with a bad taste in their mouths. And there will not be much sports of any sort, even on television, for some time. That gives people time to find other forms of entertainment. And they could find something they enjoy even better. We have few enough fans as it is, despite everything we can do - even despite winning the conference title. We certainly did not need this happening to us at this fragile point in our program history. We do not need to be surprised if our meager supply of fans gets even more meager at the start of next season - assuming next season does start.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Bringing in the alums

We were shorthanded earlier in the season, but nothing comparing to what Georgetown has faced. Through dismissals and injuries, they are down to six healthy scholarship players - just in time for the post-season. They were on the bubble for a good while, but just couldn't sustain the pace in one of the most brutal conferences in the country. So any former players who stop by for a visit are likely to be drafted into filling a spot in the practice.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Prosser's record

Granted that it is a pretty obscure record, but former Wake Forest head coach Skip Prosser holds it. He is the only coach to take three teams to the NCAA tournament in his first year coaching at the school: Loyola (MD), Xavier, and Wake Forest.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Value of roster continuity

Not so awfully long ago it was an exceptional situation when a player transferred to another school. You came, you signed up, and you stayed. Rosters tended to change only incrementally as players graduated, or occasionally dropped out. There was loyalty to the brand. Fans knew the players because the players had been there for several years. Fans felt much more of a vested interest in the roster because of the continuity. Players were playing for the old Alma Mater. Now we are into the Rent-a-player Era. One and Done. Or maybe Two and Transfer.

There already is a sound of weeping and gnashing of teeth among the basketball elite because the ending of One and Done will diminish the quality of the play in college basketball. Perhaps so. But I still think that Four-star Senior is likely to be better than a Five-star Freshman. And anyway, what basketball may lose in talent it will more than make up in the values inherent in continuity and school loyalty.

College athletics is theoretically about student-athletes, that is, students who are paying their way through school by playing ball. Does anybody really pretend that One-and-doners are students, in any real sense? Oh, sure, they have to go to classes for a little while, but that is totally irrelevant to them, because they have no intention of staying in school nor of making their living from what they are being forced to study for a brief period.

We have a system for non-student athletes. It is called the minor leagues. Most professional sports have some sort of such system for players who want to play, but have no interest in getting an education. Those players belong in the pros. Students belong in college.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Save us from Dick Vitale

Vitale has to be the worst color man ever. Yelling "Oh baby" every few seconds is not providing anything for the fans. The color guys is supposed to be explaining things from a basketball standpoint so we fans can understand better what is happening. Vitale is just obnoxious and irritating.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

You just never know

Northwestern is 2-17 in the Big Ten, but they are currently leading #20 Penn State by ten points with six minutes left. You just never know in college basketball, and that is what makes it so much fun.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The sissies of basketball

The guys who draw the most fouls have the most bruises at the end of the game. They are down in the thick of things, drawing body contact, taking one for the team. Three point shooters are the white collar workers of basketball, out on the perimeter, protected by that nonsensical three-shot rule, the untouchables of the game. "Naughty, naughty - you're not allowed to touch me, because I'm special. Go sit on the bench while your coach chews you out for a three-shot foul."

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Everyone knew

They didn't count Bill Russell's blocks in college, but everyone knew who was the MVP. In his second NCAA championship with the San Fransisco Dons, blocks were not an official stat, but from the film it has been calculated that, in addition to 26 points and 27 rebounds, he had 20 blocks.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Mick Cronin for COY?

Cronin may not get Coach of the Year, and may not deserve to, but he certainly deserves to be in the conversation. Given the empty coffer he inherited at UCLA and the drastic culture change which he instituted (Tinseltown to Blue Collar), getting the Bruins back on track should have been a multiple-year project. But here he has them in the NCAA conversation in his first season. And they are closing fast. It is not the same Bruin team we have seen in the past few years, but they are not a bad joke any more.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Danny Hodge

Some of you oldtimers will remember wrestler Danny Hodge. He was an outstanding high school and college wrestler. He was the only amateur wrestler to have been on the cover of Sports Illustrated while still an amateur. The Dan Hodge trophy is the wrestling equivalent of the Heisman. One remarkable feat he accomplished is pictured below. While he was 80 years old, he crushed an apple with one hand on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

A13 2557.jpg

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Great Triumvirate of Golf

In these modern days, we might be tempted to think this title would refer to Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player - but we would be wrong. It goes back further than that. This particular title refers to Harry Vardon, John Henry Taylor and James Braid, who dominated golf in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The trio combined to win The Open Championship (we call it the British Open) 16 times in the 21 tournaments held between 1894 and 1914. In the five years when they did not win, one of them was second.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Regular season champs!

I have always felt like being regular season champions is a much more desirable title than tournament champs, since it involves doing well over a larger number of games. And it probably would be, except for the fact that the leagues all send the tournament winner to the NCAA tournament. Anyway, it feels very, very good to be the outright Sun Belt regular season champions. We are going to post season, somewhere or other. And if the NIT ends up being the place, this team is good enough actually to make some noise there.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

The ultimate home court advantage

At the RAC this season, Rutgers is 17-1. Away from the RAC they are 1-8. Ohio State Coach Chris Holtmann told Yahoo, "I'm sure I've been heckled and jeered in more places; I've just never heard it so clearly."

Friday, February 28, 2020

Here is where the streak needs to start

The last few days we have gotten caught up in tracking the magic number to guarantee us a trip at least to the NIT, and that is VERY important. This is a roster that actually could make some noise in the NCAA if we get the right draw, and especially in the NIT.

However, maybe more important in the bigger picture is the fact that we won 20 games for the first time since the Beard season. And, of course, there are several games still to go.

I firmly believe that that needs to be our constant guide on the horizon. Win 20 games - every year. Do that and the rest of it will take care of itself.

The streak has just begun.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Why not do it by formula?

We have the NET, before that RPI, plus the independents like Sagarin. They come up with a mathematical formula for ranking the entire 300+ Division 1 teams in the country. And because it is based on a formula, human judgment is taken out of it. Why is the NCAA still living in the past, putting the necks of coaches and players in the hands of a bunch of old men in a smoke-filled room? Surely there is a computer guru somewhere who is smart enough to come up with a computer formula that can satisfy everyone. Then you just plug in the numbers and you have the NCAA tournament field. The only thing anyone could complain about at that point is the formula, but everyone at least is one the same playing field.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

What Pikiell is doing in Jersey

"He's built a starless team that runs nine deep and wins through blunt force" (Yahoo's Pete Thamel). In other words, Steve Pikiell is giving New Jersey the sort of blue collar team that Jersey loves to embrace. "Blunt force" - I love it. It remains to be seen if Rutgers will make the NCAA tournament, but they will be close, and that is better than what they have been for a long while.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Is a narrow win better?

If we were four games up with four games to go, we could relax down the stretch and maybe Coach could experiment with some things that might help come tournament time. However, the #1 seed is the #1 seed regardless of how wide the gap is over second place. And if the opposition is close on our heels, that keeps us sharp, keeps an edge to our play. And kids being kids, you never know what might happen otherwise. So, I am not complaining that we are still worrying about the Magic Number with three games to go. Just stay focused, Trojans.

Monday, February 24, 2020

A step ahead down the stretch

It reminds me of a few races I was in in my long-distant youth. You come out of the curve a step ahead of the next runner, going full speed, having let out the throttle. You are hoping you can hold off the competition just a little longer.

We had a chance to break contact with the field and open up some daylight, but we hit a cold spell. So now we have to finish the race with the competition's hot breath down our collars. That's what makes a season fun. You have to earn it.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Personally, I like it

This is as wide open a season heading down the stretch as I can recall offhand. There absolutely is nothing close to a prohibitive favorite for the national championship. Personally, I think that is good for the game. First of all, it makes the supposed "experts" have to work a little since there are a lot more teams to cover. And it certainly will make bracket-making more of an adventure. Maybe someone will come on late, but right now this is a wide open town.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

It all comes down to March

“They are definitely playing better basketball when it needs to be done,” Christian said. “I think if you asked Tony — maybe you guys should ask him — would you rather play your best basketball in November or March? I’d rather play my best basketball in March. That’s why they have a banner up there. It wasn’t like, we played great on Nov. 25th around Thanksgiving. They don’t put that banner up there. They put up the one in March.”

That is a quote from Boston College coach Jim Christian, speaking about Virginia. And he is right: in basketball it is all about when you peak.

Friday, February 21, 2020

D-III basketball

My wife and I went to Clarksville last night to watch two University of the Ozarks basketball games. Ozarks is having a terrible year on both sides, but they did win both games last night, and it was a ton of fun. In their old gym, it is like going back 50 years in time. The walls are concrete block, and the gym is LIVE. A handful of fans sounds like a houseful. The talent level is not great, of course, but they play just as hard as the D1 teams. And, for whatever reason, at neither game I have attended this season did they charge admission. So, it is a pretty good value.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

When Duke loses

Why does it feel so good when Duke loses, especially when they lose badly? I cannot speak for others, but I have a strong allergy to arrogance. Certain programs (which necessarily includes their fan base) have the stench of arrogance about them. That probably is why I dislike Fayetteville so strongly. So when an arrogant team loses badly, it is like a spray of air freshener in a stinking room. And I like good-smelling rooms. So come on, Duke, lose again!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Human nature works against the little guys

Even if we recognize a rule that the selection committee is not supposed to give any weight to when a win takes place, human nature still dictates that the small conferences are at a disadvantage. If Wake Forest beats Duke late in the year, that is a big upset and will be fresh on everyone's mind. You can say, "Don't pay any more attention to that win than the early wins," but human beings are human beings, and they will.

The problem little schools have is that once conference play begins, barring the rare emergence of a Top 25 program in our ranks, we do not have anyone to beat to impress the committee. So, all our impressing has to be done at a time of the year that is so easily forgotten. Just the nature of the beast, but it does work against us.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ivory's record

We all know that in the SWAC, success is a relative thing. Any team that wins more than two or three games in the non-conference season is probably headed for a banner year. So when we look at the record of UAPB's head coach George Ivory, we have to keep that in mind.

UAPB is his first head coaching gig. He had had several assistant spots in the SWAC before that. His main claim to fame is that he took the Golden Lions to the NCAA tournament in his second season (2010). That season also produced his highest win total (18) and was one of two winning seasons that he has had.

His problem is that in the last five seasons he has lost 20 games or more, and the other year he had 19 losses. And this year they stand at 3-22 already. That is unsatisfactory even by SWAC standards. However, on the plus side, he has had a winning record in conference the last two years.

I would hate to be the AD at a SWAC school. Judging success in basketball would be tough.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Memphis fizzling

Memphis is one of a handful of teams in the country that I love to hate. Ever since Calipari crawled through town there has been a trail of slime about the program - except for Tubby's brief stay there. Probably because of Calipari's influence they are a team who thinks they can buy their way to success through recruiting. So I don't like them. They exemplify the glamor and glitz of basketball instead of the hard work and perseverance. They are what is wrong with basketball.

Now, it is up in the air as to whether or not Memphis will even make the NCAA tournament, after all their national championship talk before the season. Now they are having to learn how to spell NIT. Couldn't happen to nicer folks.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

What was he smoking?

I just saw Jay Bilas argue that one-and-done made college basketball better. So, having players on our teams who don't want to be in college, care nothing about college, care nothing about the teams they are on, are just biding their time until they can get in the pros when they would already be there if they could - all that makes college basketball better? And in the meantime those freshmen get all the hype instead of those players who play and stay and pay their dues and actually get better during the time while they are in college? He is nuts.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A lot of it is pure hype

"Dayton has lost two games this year, and unless you’ve paid close attention, you don’t know how good Obi Toppin is. If Obi Toppin played at Duke, he’d be hyped like Zion. He’s not as good as Zion, but he’s not that far off. He’s very, very talented."

The above is a quote from ESPN's Jay Bilas, and it says tons. The light in college basketball shine brightest in certain places, and in other places things are pretty dark. The glamor programs and power conferences get the press. And Bilas just admitted that even at the level of Dayton, which is in the upper tier of basketball, players get ignored.

The press is like anyone else: they are going to take the easiest route, and that is to go where the glamor is and scoop a handful of it. But come NCAA time some smaller school will emerge as the darling of the tournament because they win a game or two, and all the press will be falling over themselves to learn about them. If they had been doing their jobs, they would already have known about them.

Friday, February 14, 2020

What are the polls?

I have no problem with the polls. They give us something to talk about, and they are the collective opinions of people who are supposed to know what they are talking about.

My problem is that I don't know exactly what they are polling. Are they selecting the teams who have the best body of work over the course of the season, or are they picking the teams who would win at least 51 games if they played each other 100 times, or who would win if the teams played only once? I don't know. We can say, the Aardvarks are "better than" the Seed Ticks, but what exactly does that mean?

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Room to improve

The encouraging thing about this team is that, as well as we have done, there is still considerable room for improvement. And much of that improvement could happen even before this season is over, and certainly before the next one begins.

Markquis has improved the reliability of his ball handling as the season has progressed, but an assist/turnover ration of 1.31 is still not acceptable for your primary ball handler. But at least we are headed in the right direction. And Jaizec Lottie is at 1.52, which is not bad for a back-up ball handler.

Ruot Monyyong has attempted 32 three-pointers, which is not a lot, but that does not need to increase, seeing that he is making only 22% of them. If a big men needs to be shooting outside, it needs to be Maric.

Jaizec Lottie shoots a fair amount of free throws for the minutes he plays, but he does not make many of them. Nor does he make many 3-pointers. He could really help us if his shooting improves.

In the last half-dozen games, Jovan Stulic's 3-point shooting has taken off, after lagging all year. We needed that, and he needs to keep it up.

As a team, our perimeter defense needs some work. We are allowing opponents to shoot 36% from the arc, and they are shooting considerably more of them than we are. This is probably the Achilles heel of the team at the moment. We are vulnerable from the perimeter.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Big year for Big Ten

I just saw the most recent Bracketology by CBS. Jerry Palm has the Big Ten putting eleven teams in the NCAA field, which I believe would be a record for one conference. That is very interesting, since ESPN's latest Bubble Watch only has one team (Maryland) as a Lock, and that only very recently. What that means is that there is tremendous parity in the league, and that they are spending their weekends beating up on each other.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sir John Walker

Not too many athletes get knighted, but John Walker was one of them. He was the first man to run the mile under 3:50, and won the 1500 meters at the 1976 Olympics.

He set the New Zealand record in the mile in 1982 in a race when Steve Scott (US), Walker and Ray Flynn (Ireland) set their respective national records in the mile in the same race. All three stood for 25 years until Little Rock's Alan Webb broke Scott's record. The other two still stand.

Walker was appointed a Knight Commander of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2009 Queen's Birthday Honours.

John Walker runner 1975.jpg

Monday, February 10, 2020

Hardest recruiting job?

Which SBC school would be the hardest one to recruit to? Well . . . I am not sure, of course, but I am guessing it might be ULM. It is a fairly good distance from any semi-major metropolitan area, and mainly in a not-very-picturesque rural area. I do not know just exactly what young athletes would like in a hometown these days, but I am guessing that Monroe probably is not it. But then again, maybe the town does not matter much, as long as the campus is right.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

College as minor leagues

In football and basketball (but not so much in baseball), the college games act as a de facto minor leagues for the professional system. But how well do they work? Perhaps OK as far as the pros are concerned, but it seems to me that college basketball is getting the short end of the stick in the matter. Changes are in order, but any changes probably will be in the wrong direction.

Down the stretch

If we win half our remaining games, we tie for the SBC regular season championship. And since two of those games are at home against the bottom-feeders from Louisiana, we are in a good position to do so. Also, if we win two more games we make it to the 20-win plateau, which has not been that common in our program's history, and needs to become the new "normal" if we are to get to where we want to be.

The regular season championship has long meant more to me than getting to go to the NCAA. If the first place, winning an entire season title is much more difficult to do than winning a handful of games because you happen to get hot at the right time. In the second place, sure, the bright lights of the NCAA are nice for the program, but there is virtually zero chance of even making it to the Final Four. On the other hand, in the NIT there is a real possibility to doing some major damage.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Specializing in the unrecorded stat

I have long said that one indication of good defense is the fact that opponents cannot get off a shot. But other than shot clock violations, that stat does not get tracked. "He is a good defender because he keeps the guy he is guarding from shooting."

In his weekly Bubble Watch, John Gasaway said this about Rutgers' defense: "Rutgers is the rare D that takes care of business on the defensive glass while forcing a higher than average number of turnovers. Opponents record a very low shot volume against this defense."

You can't shoot a high percentage if you can't even shoot.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Walker's complaint

Darrell Walker complained about his situation after he started trying to land a college head coaching job, and could not, "Didn't I coach at the highest level?" What he said was true, but that was not exactly an argument in his favor.

In the first place, he won only a third of his games in the NBA. In other words, he was a loser there. In the second place, the college game is substantially different from the pro game. In the NBA there is no recruiting. And, evidently, there is not much in the way of defense. There are egos in college ball, but not nearly what there are in the pros. And the pro game is 100% entertainment. Even if they lose, the players still make a jillion dollars, so the motivation factor is entirely different.

No, being an NBA coach is not an overly strong argument for being a successful college coach. But Walker took a D2 stop in Atlanta and won there, and after that he could make at least a plausible argument that he could coach in college.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

How to get out of a scoring drought

It amazes me when I see teams hit a shooting drought, and their remedy for it seems to be to blast away interminably from the 3-point line. Yes, sooner or later the drought will break, but in the meantime you have lost the game.

Every team needs what I call a Plan B - some other offensive scheme to get the offensive juices flowing again. And logic tells me that you break the plague of missing shots by taking shots that are more makeable - meaning closer to the goal. Get in the habit of making shots again, and then move out. Seems like common sense to me.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Monyyong is the difference

I think there are two huge differences between this year's team and last year's. First, last year the Trojans' only role was to be a supporting cast to help Rayjon Tucker make it to the pros. This year we do not have that shackle around our ankles. 

The other difference is Ruot Monyyong. Not only is he a strong inside game, but he is a legitimate rim protector, which we have not had in a while. Having one of those just makes a huge difference in how a team approaches defense.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Purely on defense

Last season Virginia had a good offensive team. They were not flashy, but they were efficient. Their defense was, as always, among the best in the nation.

This year their defense is again among the very best in the country, but their offense is in the bottom third. Can they make the NCAA tournament on, basically, one leg? Maybe, maybe not. But the fact that we are even talking about the possibility that they might shows how good their defense is.                              

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Expecting big things in track & field

With the new coaches we have brought in, I am expecting the Trojan track program to make a steady ascent. We have a couple of real headliners on the coaching staff now. It will take them some time to lure better-quality recruits into the program, but they will get there. If we can keep the coaches here, I think it is almost inevitable that track will get better.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

More tranfers?!

Big Ten ADs are proposing loosening the transfer rule. This might (or might not) be good for the athletes, but it is terrible news for coaches and fans. Continuity is a huge factor in being either one of those. Coaches need to be able to plan ahead, and fans need to be able to fantacize. If you are letting players pop in and out of programs at a whim, it severely damages both of those.

If you are wanting to help players, then teach them to grow up. Tell them that life is hard, and they need to make good, informed decisions and then live with the consequences. What they do NOT need to be doing is shuttling their commitments every time some little thing does not go their way.

Sure, players need to be able to transfer, but there needs to be a cost. If I earn an academic scholarship to Blue University, and decide I want to transfer to Red University, is that decision going to be without consequences? I doubt it.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Still searching for the right tag

No one likes "mid-major." It somehow seems derogatory, especially to those teams that routinely make it to the Top 25, even if everyone understands that it pertains to the conference and not to the team. "Non-power conference team" is accurate, but is just too unwieldy. I don't like it, but there it is. Maybe one of those media hotshots will coin a term that is concise and accurate, but for the moment I expect we will continue to use (and dislike) "mid-major."

Thursday, January 30, 2020

No "Sirs" among these Scarlet Knights

Rutgers is back in the Top 25 after a generation. They are doing it without big name 5-star players. Steve Pikiell is the working man's coach. He has constructed a team (isn't that a novel concept these days!) that is playing to put their alma mater (ditto) back on the basketball map. They haven't said, "We deserve to be here because we are high profile recruits." They just said, "We are going to work hard, listen to Coach, do what it takes, win for the school and the team." And they have done it. Another feel-good story for this season.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Unfolding feel-good drama

If Tubby Smith takes another team to the NCAA tournament, that will make six, and will be the record. So far he has led Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech to the Big Dance. That would further cement his place among the great head coaches in history.

What makes this little question mark really intriguing is that he apparently is finishing out his career at his alma mater, High Point, which has never been to the Division I tournament. (They have been in the NAIA and Division II tournaments multiple times.) If Tubby could set the record by taking his old team to the Tournament for the first time, that would make some really fine feel-good material for the media, and deservedly so.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Our man at the line

Guess who shoots the most free throws on our team. Nowell because he is so quick and hard to guard? Nope. Monyyong because he is so big and plays down low a lot? Nope. Lottie because he is good at driving to the basket? Nope.

It is (drum roll) Kamani Johnson. As I write he has attempted 115 free throws, ahead of Monyyong in second place with 97. And the good news is that he is making them at a 76% rate. When you consider that last season he was making just barely 50% of this charity shots, that is pretty impressive. He has turned the free throw line into an offensive weapon for us. He is bringing home 4 points per game just at the free throw line, not to mention what he does in getting the other team in foul trouble.