ATB: Boeheim Reaches 900, UConn Pays Tribute To Sandy Hook, and Two Impact Transfers Enter The Fold…Posted by Chris Johnson on December 18th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. It All Comes Together For Jim Boeheim. College basketball is littered with great coaches, leaders who elevate their respective programs with a handful occupying various leagues across the country. Transcending “great” and becoming “legendary” requires a sustained period of excellence. You can count these select few on one hand. Jim Boeheim belonged in this rarefied air even before Monday night’s remarkable achievement when he became just the third Division I men’s basketball head coach in history to reach 900 wins, and the first to do so in an uninterrupted tenure at one institution. Boeheim attended Syracuse as a college student and varsity basketball player, took up an assistant job there for seven years, then rose to the head coaching position, a title he has maintained with aplomb, visionary thinking and progressive leadership, for more than 30 years. Monday night’s culminating win, a 72-68 triumph over would-be spoiler Detroit, ties a bow around the longstanding brilliance of Boeheim’s work within and around the program. I don’t know when Boeheim will retire, but if the 68-year-old decides to call it quits as early as after this season, his career will have been one of the greatest we’ve ever seen. A well-deserved tip of the cap is very much in order.
Your Watercooler Moment. Two Big Transfer Debuts.
Similar storylines tethered UNLV and Missouri’s season projections in varying degrees to the ability of transfers to step in and contribute right away. For Missouri, most of the talk surrounded UConn big man Alex Oriakhi and Auburn swingman Earnest Ross. Oregon transfer Jabari Brown was less of a central storyline not because of a lack of talent or physical tools, but for the timetable of his eligibility. Brown’s services became more urgent, though, once guard Michael Dixon was suspended and eventually left school over a sexual assault accusation. UNLV’s situation follows the same rough outline, in that an elbow injury to forward Mike Moser – previously conceived as just one piece of arguably the nation’s deepest frontcourt – turned Pitt transfer Khem Birch’s arrival into a critical, much less ancillary, entry into UNLV’s frontcourt rotation. Both players made their highly anticipated debuts on Monday night, and the results went pretty much as you’d expect. Birch and Brown showed some rust in their first taste of major college hoops in 12 months. Brown had 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting (including 1-of-7 from three), but it’s hard to infer anything beyond an encouraging first run, simply for the fact that the Tigers doubled South Carolina State on the scoreboard in a 102-51 rout. The Rebels, meanwhile, were taken to the brink at UTEP, and were one Konner Tucker three-point jumper away from taking a bad loss. In 14 minutes, Birch submitted just four points and three rebounds. How well these players fit into their new teams is a time-tested analysis that can’t be decided on one night’s action. We’ll get a better read on the newcomers over the next couple of months. After one game, the general consensus is lukewarm if slightly encouraging. Concluding anything more would be uninformed guesswork.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- UConn Pays Homage to Newtown Tragedy. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings had massive rippling effects not just on national news shows but in the sports world. Major sports teams around the country, from professional leagues to college, paid tribute to the victims in various ways. UConn followed suit by holding a moment of silence before its game against Maryland-Eastern Shore tonight, donning green patches with the letters “SH” and several players, including star point guard Ryan Boatwright, inscribing the initials on their faces in a visually poignant tribute that fit the severity of the events. Kudos to the UConn athletic department for coming through with a strong emotional statement to distinguish the tragedy’s geographically-proximate institution by not only setting aside a moment for respect and remembrance, but also implementing a visual token to emphasize the importance of the tribute alongside the basketball game being played.
- Polls Underselling Notre Dame. Monday’s release of college basketball’s two major polls (the AP poll and USA Today Coaches’ poll) brought a familiar yet somewhat puzzling development. Notre Dame, a team with talent and depth at every position including a host of dead-eye three-point shooters, a savvy, turnover-averse backcourt and arguably the best rebounding big man in the country, remains stashed relatively low at No. 22. Sure, the Irish don’t have any eye-popping wins to date, but the way they’ve handled themselves since dropping an overtime decision to St. Joes four weeks ago – essentially torching everything in their path, and rarely, if ever, running into a challenge they couldn’t dispatch with minimal effort – Notre Dame feels underrated at this stage. Monday’s 12-point win over IPFW isn’t making my case; this is more of a macro observation drawing on the Irish’s season body of work. Big East play, which opens January 5 with a home visit from Seton Hall, will either validate or debunk my premise.
- Boeheim Speaks Out On Gun Control. The Newtown tragedy continues to loom over the national media circuit, so leave it to Boeheim, on a night designed to honor his accomplishments, to offer a solution (read: harsher gun control laws) to prevent future disastrous incidents involving firearm-wielding civilians. The full video is linked here. Again, strong words from a powerful man. It’s hard not to come away with anything but appreciation — whether or not you see eye-to-eye with Boeheim on the topic — for a guy who used his night of glorification to profess his beliefs on a hot-button issue. I’ve always advocated high profile athletes and coaches using their exalted statures to pontificate on pressing subjects. Boeheim used his perch to hammer home his preferred preventive measure, and one that many can find both emotional and practical comfort in following Friday’s harrowing event.
- This Year’s Dion Waiters. The story of Syracuse’s win over Detroit Monday night was, inarguably, Jim Boeheim’s 900th win. The story within the story was James Southerland – namely, the senior’s seamless succession into the sixth man role Dion Waiters glorified last season. Southerland had 22 points and four rebounds (which followed Saturday’s 21-point, five-board effort against Canisius), the latest testament to his continued development as the Orange’s No. 1 bench option. Southerland’s 66.5% effective field goal rate ranks 23rd nationally; his offensive rating (131.2) and true shooting percentage (67.7%) are also both top-50 figures. And all of it, of course, goes back to Boeheim. Here’s how you know you have an elite program: Boeheim recruits NBA talents like Waiters, Southerland and (to a small degree, last season) Michael Carter-Williams to a cold and out-of-the-way campus without guaranteeing starting positions, yet has built up enough coaching equity to be entrusted with maximizing their value and exposure within the confines of his system. Southerland, a bench player? That almost seems unfair.
- Florida State Back On Its Feet. Two weeks ago, Florida State was not only beaten on its home floor by state co-habitant Florida. It was drubbed, dissected and obliterated by the Gators to punctuate a brutal three-game home losing streak. Panic had set in. Leonard Hamilton’s traditionally stingy defense was nowhere to be found. All-America hopeful Michael Snaer was likewise scuffling. Florida State has since capitalized on two cupcake wins, beating Louisiana-Monroe Monday night and building momentum just in time for an ostensibly challenging game against Charlotte this Saturday. The 49ers aren’t world-beaters by any stretch, but if Florida State can handle business in Charlotte, it will be a strong indication that the Seminoles are taking strides towards moving past the Florida dumptrucking.
… and Miss.
- Adjusting To Life Without Drew Crawford. When word leaked Friday that senior forward Drew Crawford, Northwestern’s leading returning scorer and highest usage player by a wide margin, would miss the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury, Northwestern’s faint NCAA Tournament hopes were all but obliterated. Next year, when suspended guard JerShonn Cobb and Crawford (pending a medical hardship waiver) return to a more mature and cohesive lineup, is a more realistic NCAA Tourney shot for the Wildcats. Still, at the very least, Northwestern is capable of finishing out of the Big Ten cellar, ahead of the likes of Nebraska and Penn State. The way the Wildcats played on Monday night against Texas State, Northwestern (who needed a 12-0 run in the final minutes to overcome the Bobcats) appears as if it’ll have a hard time posting more than three to five conference wins. Losing Crawford is a major blow, but there’s enough talent at multiple positions to prevent a league-worst bottom-out, to at least salvage some positive on-court development to take into next season.
More Notes From Around the Nation.
- Younger Poole Brother Makes Appearance for Georgia Tech. Highly touted freshman Solomon Poole, fresh off graduating from high school a semester early, made his Yellow Jacket debut Monday as head coach Brian Gregory emptied the bench in the second-half of GT’s eventual 34-point win. Older brother Stacey, who transferred from Kentucky, will also be eligible for Saturday’s game against the Citadel.
- Three Wins In A Row For Vanderbilt. Academically, Vanderbilt and Cornell seem a pretty fair match. The Commodores separated themselves on the court to extend their winning-streak to a season-high three games. Vandy faces consecutive tough tests against Middle Tennessee and Butler in its next two games.
- Remembering UTEP’s ’66 National Championship Team. The Disney Movie “Glory Road” memorialized Texas Western coach Don Haskins’ brave and dauntless passage through racial scrutiny surrounding his then-unprecedented usage of African-American players in the South, which he overcame to lead the Miners past Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats to a national championship. UTEP honored the ’66 team by wearing throwback jerseys and retiring championship game MVP Bobby Joe Hill’s No. 14 uniform.
Honoring Boeheim. On a night when one storyline utterly dominates the rest, we pay special tribute to Boeheim’s achievement with his post-game interview. Enjoy one of the sport’s legendary sideline generals.
Monday Night’s All-Americans.
- Okaro White, Florida State (NPOY) – 19 points and 11 rebounds is an impressive stat line in and of itself. Going 12-of-13 from the free throw line is an added bonus.
- James Southerland, Syracuse – Few teams can match Syracuse’s length and skill in the frontcourt. Southerland, who had 22 points, four rebounds and two blocks in Jim Boeheim’s 900th career win, is an integral piece of the Orange’s interior depth.
- Earnest Ross, Missouri – All eyes were on Oregon import Jabari Brown in Monday night’s win over South Carolina State. Ross, another transfer, outdid Brown with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
- Omar Calhoun, UConn – A season-high 22 points from UConn’s prized freshman helped the Huskies overcome emotional baggage and a drastically inferior opponent (Maryland-Eastern Shore) in an 84-50 romp.
- Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame – Entering Monday night’s game against IPFW, Connaughton had attempted more than twice as many three point shots (50) as twos (23). He netted 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in a 12-point victory, only three of which came from beyond the arc.
Tweet of the Night. I miss 1970s Jim Boeheim, but this 2012 fellow, the one who picked up his 900th win Monday night, is here to stay, and that’s fine by me – even if his sense of style has clearly deteriorated over the last 30 years.
— Eric Stangel (@EricStangel) December 18, 2012