The Other 26: The RIP, Rick Majerus EditionPosted by IRenko on December 8th, 2012
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
We start this week on a somber note, adding our voices to those who have mourned the passing of Rick Majerus. Much has been said, and said well, about his place in the game, as a teacher, a tactician, and a person. But his loss is felt especially deeply by fans of mid-major basketball. That’s in part, of course, because Majerus coached exclusively at non-BCS schools. He will go down with greats like Don Haskins and John Cheney as coaches whose imprint on the game far exceeded the imprint of the conferences in which their teams played. Most coaches who excel at the mid-major level quickly ascend to the top rungs of the game, a fact to which the annual coaching carousel testifies. Majerus never made the leap, his one opportunity prematurely aborted due to his ongoing health problems. As a result, he may never be mentioned in the same breath as Wooden, Knight, Smith, Krzyzewski, Rupp, or Allen, though he was perhaps their equal, if not better, when it came to Xs and Os. But Majerus was able to do something that those greats were not — to make a distinctive mark on the game while operating from its periphery.
Yet, there was much more to what made Majerus a mid-major icon. It wasn’t just that he was coaching at the margins of the game, it’s that he seemed to be living at the margins of life. Has there ever been a more unlikely figure to pace the sideline at a National Championship game than the bald and portly Majerus, a divorced and childless bachelor living for years in a hotel and who, 30 years earlier, had been cut from his high school basketball team? We were all familiar with Majerus’ public battle with his appetite, which had exacted a personal and professional toll long before it took his life last week. Even the heartwarming stories of Majerus’ devotion to his mother seemed a constant reminder that this was a man who had formed no lasting human attachments beyond the one he came into the world with. He was a misfit and despite his disarming and self-deprecating personality, an easy target for ridicule. But he proved that you don’t need All-American talent, All-American looks, or an All-American family to make good on an All-American promise — that one’s starting point does not dictate their destination. It is the maxim by which mid-major basketball abides, and for the past 30 years it has had no greater exemplar than the one we lost last week. May he rest in peace.
TO26 Top Ten
Looking Ahead: BCS Targets
This week’s schedule is light, as exam season is upon us, but several strong TO26 teams have a chance to notch a big non-conference win against a BCS team, a virtual must-have for a viable at-large resume.
- Temple v. Duke (12/8) — It seems like every year, Temple loses multiple key players from a small rotation, only to come back to be just as good the next year. That’s just how Fran Dunphy rolls. Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, and Micheal Eric are gone, but Scootie Randall is back from an injury, and along with Khalif Wyatt, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, and Anthony Lee, forms a potent nucleus for the Owls. They put their 6-0 record and stingy defense to the test today against the No. 2 team in the country, the first of three big-time non-conference contests (Syracuse and Kansas also on the docket) that could give Temple a big at-large boost.
- Illinois at Gonzaga (12/8) — The Zags have four BCS notches in their built so far this season, with wins over West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Washington State. Illinois, though, is their toughest matchup yet. The Zags defense has been surprisingly strong, but vulnerable to the three-point shot, on which Illinois heavily relies. The Illini shoot over 40 percent from three-point range, and rank second in the country in the percentage of points they score from behind the arc.
- Ole Miss at Middle Tennessee (12/8) — MTSU is coming off a tough overtime loss against fellow mid-major stalwart Akron. The Blue Raiders have looked like the Sun Belt’s top team, as North Texas has been somewhat disappointing. In the wake of Laron Dendy’s graduation, forward Shawn Jones has stepped up his game, averaging 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds. He forms a strong inside-out tandem with guard Marcos Knight who averages 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds. After last year’s disappointing exclusion from the NCAA Tournament, they’ll be looking for a key non-conference win, and will have a shot to pick one up against the best Ole Miss team in years.
- Butler at Northwestern (12/8) — Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Northwestern? Really? Well after the Wildcats downed Baylor on the road this past week, a Butler win could be a quality addition to their at-large resume. The Bulldogs have already knocked off Marquette and North Carolina. Rotnei Clarke has been all he was expected to be for Butler and more, scoring 17.9 points per game and shooting over 43 percent from three-point range. But the Bulldogs have had uncharacteristic difficulty on the defensive end of the floor. Their efforts to improve will get a stern test from Northwestern’s patient Princeton offense.
- UNLV at California (12/9) — Anthony Bennett has been all that and more, but the dominant UNLV frontcourt that we’ve been waiting to see this year has yet to take the floor. Center Khem Birch will be eligible at midseason, and junior Mike Moser has missed time due to a hip injury. His status is uncertain for Sunday’s game against the Bears. But the bigger concern for the Rebels may be the ongoing effort to replace Oscar Bellfield at the point guard spot. Anthony Marshall has been handling the duties and may be their best option but is not ideal.