2008-09 Quarterly Report – Midseason

Posted by rtmsf on January 13th, 2009

The regular season is flying by.  Believe it or not, we’re only nine weeks away from having an official NCAA Tournament Bracket to review and obsess over.  We also happen to be nine weeks removed from opening night, so yesterday marked the official midpoint – 63 days on each side – of the regular season.  Which means, of course, for all you folks who have been busy with the holidays, busy with the bowl games, busy with the NFL Playoffs…  let’s get you caught up.


From now until the first tip in Dayton March 17th on the Road to the F4 in Detroit (ugh), roughly 150 or so teams are realistically jostling for position to be selected as one of the Chosen 65.   As we nestle into the familiarity of conference play (only the Ivies have yet to begin) and America once again wakes up to our game, weaknesses will be exposed, experienced teams will try to avoid complacency and young teams will start to figure it all out.  Come Selection Sunday, many of these prospective bracketeers will have fallen by the wayside, but there will be 50 or so at-large teams holding NCAA-caliber resumes, even though only 34 will be taken.   Before we jump in with both feet into the fun that the next two months will bring, let’s take a look back at the first two months to see what we’ve learned.

Carolina is Not Unbeatable, but Are the Heels Still the Favorite? A mere month ago we wrote that North Carolina was playing like  a team with plans to lose no more than a couple of games (if that many) all season.  Then the last eight days happened.  First, UNC lost at home to an underwhelming BC team, followed by a road loss at Wake Forest last night to start 0-2 in the ACC.  So what’s going on – how can this juggernaut of a team with nearly everyone returning look so… mortal?  It’s easy, really.  So far, UNC’s defense hasn’t been up to snuff.  It’s more efficient as a whole than last year’s version, but their statistical profile is elevated on the defensive end by forcing turnovers which in turn fuels their lethal fast break.   In a halfcourt set, as Wake and BC repeatedly and effectively showed, UNC can be penetrated and exposed.  The key to playing with the Heels is limiting those TOs that Ty Lawson turns into the quick strikes that overwhelm teams.  Is it a fatal flaw?  It could be (how’s that for a hedge?).  Teams that can’t consistently make stops don’t win championships, but we really don’t see why UNC’s defense shouldn’t be able to make the commitment to improve over the next two months.  The 2005 title team only became legit once Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May got serious about stopping people in addition to outscoring them.  Can the 2009 Heels – specifically, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Deon Thompson – do the same?  Stay tuned.

These Guys Have to Commit to Better Halfcourt Defense
These Guys Have to Commit to Better Halfcourt Defense
The Big East Should Have Its Own Region. Seriously, let’s just rename the E. Rutherford Region this year and invite every Big East team.  Or at least the top 12.  Of course, if we did that, it would prohibit the possibility of the conference placing four teams in the Final Four this year – a plausible scenario.  Tell us that you couldn’t envision a situation where four of the following teams – Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse – would reach Detroit in April.  Throw in Villanova, Marquette and West Virginia and you might just have nine of the Sweet Sixteen.  The top half of this conference is really that good.  So who is the best of the best?  It depends on when you ask the question.  Two weeks ago it was UConn.  A week ago Georgetown.  Now it’s Pittsburgh.  Next week…  probably Syracuse.  The point is nobody knows.  UConn has the most raw talent, but they’ve exhibited problems putting it together consistently.  Georgetown, haven’t you heard, has rebounding issues.   Pittsburgh isn’t reliable from behind the arc.  Syracuse has a tendency to lose to teams like Cleveland St. on miracle shots.  Louisville spends much of its time looking for its ass with both hands.  Notre Dame has a maddening tendency to play defense with its hands.  Marquette and Villanova are too guard heavy.  West Virginia has Bob Huggins.  And on and on.   All we can say for certain is that the quality of play in the seemingly-nightly matchups between Top 25 teams is top-shelf, and it makes up for all those other nights where we’re stuck watching Auburn-Ole Miss.
The Big Ten Doesn’t Suck This Year. Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that our friendly midwestern conference is on par with the Big East, or even the ACC, but it’s a lot stronger in the middle of the pack than it has been in recent years.  Not much was expected out of Minnesota (15-1), Illinois (14-2) or Michigan (13-3) this year, but each of them are playing excellent ball and have marquee wins over the likes of Louisville, Missouri, Duke and UCLA in their pockets.  Combine their success with the standard good seasons expected from Michigan St. (13-2), Purdue (12-4), Ohio St. (11-3) and Wisconsin (12-4), and you have a competitive six-bid conference. Even traditional cellar dweller Penn St. (13-4) has shown signs of life this year.  Heck, they even made the ACC/Big Ten Challenge competitive (losing 6-5) this year!
Our Midwestern Friends Have Been Practicing
Our Midwestern Friends Have Been Practicing

They’re Putting It Together. Now that Tom Izzo once again has a full complement of players with Goran Suton back in the fold, Michigan St. has looked much better since their abysmal performance in the ACC/B10 Challenge against UNC.  They’ve run off nine in a row with wins at Texas, at Minnesota and Ohio St. – everyone wrote this team off after that UNC game, but they’ll be heard from in March.  UCLA is also quietly going about its business, also reeling off nine in a row (including a 3-0 start in road games in the Pac-10) since their loss to Texas in mid-December.  Ben Howland is getting production from eleven players, and if anyone really thought the Bruins were going to have a ‘rebuilding’ season, they need to have their head checked.  This team will win close to 30 games again.   It’s amazing how a series of close games that go your way can make or break a team’s confidence.  After Louisville had dropped tight ones to Minnesota and UNLV in late December, everyone was ready to write off the Cards.  Now that they’ve won three of their lost four on the last possession, they sit at 3-0 in the Big East (with two road wins) and appear to be in relatively good shape compared to some of the other Big East contenders (UConn, ND, and Georgetown in particular).  We’ll see just how good they can be when #1 Pittsburgh visits on Saturday.

Pleasant Surprises. Obviously, Wake Forest is a pretty big surprise – we expected them to be pretty good, but nobody saw a top five team coming from Dino Gaudio this year.  What about Syracuse? – at 16-1 and the lone loss to Cleveland St. from 75 feet, Jim Boeheim’s crew has as much talent as just about anybody in the country.  Clemson is pulling its annual ridiculous start, but there are signs that this Tiger team is legit – they have a balanced attack, they’re strong at both ends of the court, and they have good road wins at Illinois, South Carolina and Miami (FL) so far.  Butler is a HUGE surprise, although we shouldn’t ever be surprised with that program.  The Bulldogs sit at 14-1 and two of their top three players are freshmen, yet they once again appear to be the class of the Horizon and a top mid-major.  Tubby Smith has Minnesota playing great ball, and the Gophers are on a fast track to the NCAA Tournament at least a year ahead of schedule.  Coaching matters – Mike Montgomery also has California playing hard for the first time in a decade.  The Bears look like a top three team in the Pac-10 at this point.

Syracuse Has the Look of a Team Built for March
Syracuse Has the Look of a Team Built for March

Disappointments. Since the Q1 update, Gonzaga has done nothing but crap itself, losing games to Arizona, UConn, Portland St., and Utah.  They did get a key OT win at Tennessee last week, and their defense is still stronger than in recent years, but for some reason or another, the Zags are having trouble putting it all together.  USC is destined to become this year’s NC State (a preseason ranked team that won’t make the NCAA Tourney).  The SECTennessee, Florida and Kentucky – have all been various shades of disappointing.  Between the cream of the SEC East, there’s what, three quality wins?  On the other side of that conference, only Arkansas has even been mildly interesting, with big home wins over Oklahoma and Texas.  At the mid-major level, Southern Illinois (6-8 ) and Wright St. (9-8 ) have a long way to go before they’ll turn their seasons around.

RTC Midseason All-Americans. We’ll take some heat for not putting defending NPOY Tyler Hansbrough on our first team, but his numbers, particularly his rebounding average, are off from last season.  Granted, he’s still probably recovering from a stress reaction injury, so he’ll have time to recover his (rightful?) place on the 1st team, but for now, we like Griffin (obvious choice) and Harangody in our frontcourt.  Curry and Harden are also easy choices in the backcourt, but we’re making a leap of faith choosing Teague – his last two games against BYU and UNC were very impressive performances (he averaged 32/5/4 assts on 59%) and we’re riding on the Wake bandwagon right now.

  • Jeff Teague, G – Wake Forest (21/4/4 assts on 54%/54% 3fg shooting)
  • Stephen Curry, G – Davidson (29/4/7 assts/3 stls on 45%/37% 3fg shooting)
  • James Harden, G – Arizona St. (23/6/5 assts on 56%/42% 3fg shooting)
  • Blake Griffin, F – Oklahoma (23/14/3 assts on 65% shooting)
  • Luke Harangody, F – Notre Dame (25/13 on 51% shooting)

Knocking on the Door (2d Team).

  • Tyler Hansbrough, F – North Carolina (22/8 on 54% shooting)
  • Patrick Patterson, F – Kentucky (19/9/3 assts on 71% shooting)
  • Dejuan Blair, F – Pittsburgh (15/13 on 61% shooting)
  • Manny Harris, G – Michigan (19/8/5 assts on 44%/31% 3fg shooting)
  • Ty Lawson, G – North Carolina (15/3/6 assts on 53%/42% 3fg shooting)

All-Freshman Team. Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest), Jrue Holiday (UCLA) and Gordon Hayward (Butler) were tough to leave off this list.

  • Greg Monroe, C – Georgetown (14/6/3 assts on 57% shooting)
  • Sylven Landesberg, G – Virginia (19/6/3 assts on 49%/30% 3fg shooting)
  • Tyreke Evans, G – Memphis (16/6/4 assts/3 stls on 45% shooting)
  • Seth Curry, G – Liberty (20/4 on 45%/40% 3fg shooting)
  • Paul George, F – Fresno St. (16/7 on 54%/46% 3fg shooting)

RTC Greatest Hits (Q2).

Big Games (Q3). Here are the top 10 games of the next month.

  • Syracuse @ Georgetown – 01.14.09
  • Pittsburgh @ Louisville – 01.17.09
  • Georgetown @ Duke – 01.17.09
  • Wake Forest @ Clemson – 01.17.09
  • Texas @ Baylor – 01.27.09
  • Duke @ Wake Forest – 01.28.09
  • California @ UCLA – 01.29.09
  • Connecticut @ Louisville – 02.02.09
  • Duke @ Clemson – 02.04.09
  • Michigan St. @ Minnesota – 02.04.09
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA – 02.07.09

Extremes. This won’t last much longer, as we fully expect all three of the unbeatens to have a loss by this time next week, if not sooner.  That’s what conference play does to you.  NC Central will get a win against a D2 squad soon, but poor little NJIT has no relief in sight.  They’re sitting on 49 in a row and, according to KenPom’s projections, 60+ in a row is within reach.   Memo to NJIT coach Jim Engles – take a page from the NC Central playbook and schedule some JV High School D2 teams.

Unbeaten (next possible loss)

  • Pittsburgh (Big East): 15-0 (@ Louisville 1/17)
  • Wake Forest (ACC):  14-0 (@ BC 1/14)
  • Clemson (ACC): 16-0 (v. Wake Forest 1/17)

Winless (next possible win)

  • NJIT (Ind): 0-16 (Bryant 1/21)
  • North Carolina Central (Ind): 0-18 (D2 Central St 1/16)
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2008-09 Conference Primers: #3 – ACC

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2008

Zach Smith of Old Gold & Blog and DeaconsIllustrated is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). 

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. North Carolina (28-2, 14-2)
  2. Duke (27-5, 13-3)
  3. Wake Forest (21-8, 11-5)
  4. Miami (20-9, 10-6)
  5. Clemson (20-10, 8-8)
  6. Virginia Tech (18-12, 8-8)
  7. Georgia Tech (17-12, 7-9)
  8. Maryland (17-13, 7-9)
  9. NC State (15-14, 5-11)
  10. Boston College (15-15, 4-12)
  11. Florida State (13-16, 4-12)
  12. Virginia (11-16, 4-12)


WYN2K. The ACC is still the ACC. I know many still long for the return of the days of nine teams (or even eight), but for better or worse a 12-team ACC is here to say, and it’s still plenty enjoyable. It may not be the absolute best conference in 2008-2009, but it’s dang good, and I have a feeling the majority of college basketball fans would still rather watch Duke play North Carolina play than Louisville play UConn. Everyone agrees UNC is the best team in the country (assuming they’ll have Tyler Hansbrough back sooner rather than later) and Duke is right there in the top five with them. With high expectations and lots of potential, Wake Forest is also making appearances in preseason top 25 rankings, and Miami also came in at #17 in the preseason AP poll. Clemson doesn’t appear to be far behind. I expect all five of those teams to make the NCAA Tournament this season, and I will not be surprised if Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Maryland compete for berths as well. If he comes back healthy, Hansbrough (22.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg) is likely to once again be the national player of the year, while Boston College’s Tyrese Rice (21 ppg, 4.9 apg), Miami’s Jack McClinton (17.7 pgg), North Carolina’s Ty Lawson (12.7 ppg, 5.16 apg), and Duke’s Gerald Henderson (12.7 ppg, 31 blocks) are all players to keep an eye on this season. Wake Forest boasts this year’s best recruiting class, led by forward Al-Farouq Aminu, and people will definitely want to keep an eye on Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert as well.

Predicted Champion. This isn’t a difficult choice to make this season. There’s little doubt the North Carolina Tar Heels (NCAA #1) are the best team in the ACC this season, and I think just about everyone will be surprised if they don’t win both the regular season and the tournament. Roy Williams has done an excellent job in his time at Carolina, and with both Tyler Hansborough and Ty Lawson deciding to return for another season, the Tar Heels have all five starters from last season back on the floor. No team in the ACC can match the talent, depth, and experience on this Carolina roster. They play fast and score quickly (88.6 ppg, .488 from the field last season) beat teams by the widest margins in the ACC (+16.1), and have an absurdly high rebounding margin (+11 – the closest team was +5). They also led the ACC in assists per game (16.8) and assist/turnover ratio (1.17). They don’t always play the best defense in the conference, but with their offense they don’t need to. It’s going to take an excellent performance for anyone in the ACC to beat them this season.

Others Considered.  I’d be lying if I said I seriously considered anyone else. North Carolina is just that good. I’m not saying Duke (NCAA #3) isn’t a great team—they are—but I don’t think they’re quite there with Carolina this season. Duke is a pretty clear favorite to be runner-up this season, and for good reason. They return a talented base, including point guard Greg Paulus (11.4 ppg, 3.2 apg), shooting guard Jon Scheyer (11.7 ppg), forward Gerald Henderson, and center Kyle Singler (13.3 pgg, 5.8 rpg). They will also count on strong performances from new starter Lance Thomas, as well as bench contributions from Nolan Smith and freshman Miles Plumlee. They score almost as much as UNC (83.2 ppg), play even better defense (allowing only 69.4 ppg) and lead the conference in turnover margin (+4.8). The Wake Forest (NCAA #5) Demon Deacons get in this discussion based primarily on potential. They didn’t graduate a single impact player, return two of last season’s most talented freshmen in forward James Johnson (14.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and guard Jeff Teague (13.9 ppg, 1.83 steals), and bring in the ACC’s best recruiting class of forward Al-Farouq Aminu and centers Tony Woods and Ty Walker. If Coach Dino Gaudio can maximize the potential in this team then they could really make some noise this season.

Other Likely NCAA Bids.  Miami (NCAA #6) and Clemson (NCAA #12) should both be good enough to make the tournament this year. Jack McClinton (17.7 ppg) is the clear leader of the Miami team – a great shooter who has improved his entire game. Miami relies on a strong defense (second in scoring defense last season at 67.9 ppg) and will do so again this season, hoping to ride that into the NCAA Tournament. Clemson hopes to join them, led by Trevor Brooker who is both a great scorer and rebounder. In the past the Tigers have relied on a speedy trapping defense that creates lots of turnovers, but much of the talent that made that style of play work in the past is gone this season. They’ll need Brooker and KC Rivers to step up and put points on the board this season. Virginia Tech (NIT) and Georgia Tech (NIT) are likely bubble teams this season. VT only lost one starter from last year’s squad and returns lots of young talent, including AD Vasallo and Jeff Allen. Georgia Tech lost a lot from last year’s team but brings back some young talent in a good recruiting class. Maryland (NIT) lost a great frontcourt and will rely on Greivis Vasquez to lead them to a potential NIT birth.

The Rest.  NC State, Boston College, Florida State and Virginia are all likely to be staying home in March, although it is certainly possible for one or two to surprise and make some kind of noise this season and maybe grab an NIT birth. NC State lost its top three players from a season ago and will need lots of guys to step up this year. Boston College boasts a great player in Tyrese Rice, but lacks anyone to support him and I don’t see who could step up and really fill that role. Florida State loses as much as NC State did, if not more, and probably has even less talent that could step up. Virginia, like these other teams, lost its top three players from last season and another to injury. For now, everything is on Mamadi Diane’s shoulders and the prospects for this season are grim.

RPI Boosters.

  • Kentucky @ North Carolina – ESPN 9:00  (11.18.09)
  • Ohio State @ Miami – ESPN 7:00 ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.02.08)
  • Duke @ Purdue – ESPN 9:15  ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.02.08)
  • Indiana @ Wake Forest – ESPN 7:00  ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.03.08)
  • North Carolina @ Michigan State – ESPN 9:15  ACC/B10 Challenge  (12.03.08)
  • NC State @ Davidson – FSN 12:00  (12.06.08)
  • Miami @ Kentucky – ESPN 5:30  (12.06.08)
  • Duke @ Xavier – CBS 2:00  (12.20.08)
  • Davidson @ Duke – ESPN 7:00  (01.07.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke – CBS 1:30  (01.16.09)

Preseason Tourneys.

  • North Carolina – Maui Invitational
  • Duke – Coaches Versus Cancer
  • Boston College – Preseason NIT
  • Virginia Tech – Puerto Rico Tip Off
  • Miami – Paradise Jam
  • Wake Forest – 76 Classic
  • Maryland – Old Spice Classic
  • Florida State – Las Vegas Invitational

The preseason/Thanksgiving tournaments should provide some good early challenges for these ACC teams, and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge usually provides some entertainment as well. Just about everyone has a couple of significant OOC games, and for some of the bubble teams these could be the RPI boosters they need to make a push into the NCAA Tournament.

Key Games.  I’ve heard it said that every game is a big game in the ACC, and in many ways this is true. Obviously, though, some are bigger than others so let’s take a look:

  • Clemson @ Miami – FSN 7:45  (12.21.08)
  • North Carolina @ Wake Forest – FSN 8:00  (01.11.09)
  • Duke @ Georgia Tech – ESPN 7:00  (01.14.09)
  • Miami @ North Carolina – ESPN 9:00  (01.17.09)
  • Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest – ESPN2 7:00  (01.21.09)
  • Duke @ Clemson – ESPN 9:00  (02.03.09)
  • North Carolina @ Virginia Tech – ESPN 7:00  (03.04.09)
  • Duke @ North Carolina – CBS 4:00  (03.11.09)

As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s really difficult to just pick a handful of important ACC games, but these represent a smattering of some of the best teams and contenders playing each other. I promise, there will plenty of important and exciting games in the ACC all season long.

Did You Know. Tyler Hansbrough is the first AP National Player of the Year to return for another season since Shaquille O’Neal did it at LSU after winning the award in 1991. Pretty impressive, but maybe more surprising is that O’Neal returned – I’d be curious to know why he did. Also interesting, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski actually led a team to a gold medal for the second time over the summer. He had also been an assistant coach on the 1992 Dream Team. Unfortunately for him, coaches aren’t actually awarded medals, only players.

65 Team Era.  By nearly every objective measure, the ACC has been the best league of the last quarter-century: the best overall NCAA record (234-116, .669), the most #1 seeds (21), the most titles (6), the most F4s (22) and the most S16s (63).  These numbers are all driven by the fact that UNC and Duke have arguably been two of the top several programs in the nation during this time period.  What if we removed these two from consideration – how would the ACC compare?  After removing 130 wins, 19 #1 seeds, 5 titles, 18 F4s and 33 S16s, you’re left with a conference that would look a lot like the Atlantic 10 or CUSA in its best years.  It’s pretty amazing just how dominant those two programs have been over the years, and will continue to be. 

Final Thoughts.  It’s going to be another fun year in the ACC this season. I grew up outside ACC country, but having been here for several years now I can honestly say there’s nothing quite like it. I was skeptical at first, but I’ve been convinced. I’m looking forward to another great season. The top tier of teams is excellent, and the conference has enough depth to be exciting from nearly top to bottom. Despite North Carolina’s unanimity at the top, I don’t believe it is impossible for someone else to knock them off. Duke could certainly do it, as could anyone else in that next tier of teams. It will also be interesting to see how Tyler Hansbrough’s injury affects the Tar Heels and the ACC as a whole.

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Preseason Polls Released

Posted by rtmsf on October 31st, 2008

Prediction:  by the end of the first week of December, UNC will no longer be #1 in the major media polls.

No way, there’s too much pressure and they have too many good teams to handle before we even get our advent calendars.  Oh, and did you hear, a small piece of their offense will be out for a while with a stress reaction?  Even if this substantial piece never misses a game, which is extremely unlikely, he’s going to miss practice and be out of ‘game shape’ for a while.  And no, we’re not talking about Marcus Ginyard, but his loss hurts too.

Here’s Carolina’s early schedule – you tell us how they’re going to come out of this unscathed…

  • v. Penn  (11.15.08) – easy enough at home, right?
  • v. Kentucky (11.18.08) – this home game suddenly becomes extremely interesting if TH is out or still ailing – Patrick Patterson will wipe up the inside.
  • @ UCSB  (11.21.08) – UNC fans will remember the west coast stopover game before Maui in 2004-05 well.  Trap game.
  • @ Chaminade  (11.24.08) – Maui Invitational first round – easy W.
  • v.  Alabama (probably) (11.25.08) – UNC should be careful to not sleep on an athletic Bama team, but will probably win regardless.
  • v. Notre Dame/Texas (probably) (11.26.08) – either of these teams could defeat a less-than-full-strength UNC in Maui.
  • v. UNC-Asheville  (11.30.08) – easy home win.
  • @ Michigan St. (Detroit) (12.03.08) – 40,000 people could watch this game at Ford Field, and UNC will absolutely need to be at full strength to win this game vs. MSU.

There are at least three opportunities for the major upset here, and if Hansbrough and/or Ginyard are out for any of those games, go ahead and mark it down.  UNC will not enter the second week of December #1 and unbeaten.

Now, on to the polls, where UNC was a unanimous #1 in the AP Poll for the first time EVER (nope, not even 1991 UNLV, 1992 Duke or 2007 Florida), and also unanimous in the Coach’s Poll.  No pressure or anything…  FYI – UNC has been preseason #1 six times in its history (incl. this year) – the results of those seasons are: 1982 (Natl. Champs), 1984 (S16), 1987 (E8), 1994 (R32), 2008 (F4) – all that’s missing is a first-round loss or a title game loss.

Here are the polls.

We plan on doing some broader-based analytics of preseason polls in a general sense next week, but for now, here are a few things that we noticed right away.

  • Biggest jumps from AP to Coaches – Georgetown (+4) and Duke (+3)
  • Biggest drops from AP to Coaches – USC (-3) and Wake Forest (-3)
  • Coaches tend to vote by available talent + belief in other coaches’ abilities – what does this say about Tim Floyd and Dino Gaudio in relation to JT3 and Coach K?
  • Overrated – UConn, Duke, Oklahoma, USC
  • Underrated – Wisconsin, Florida, Georgetown, Gonzaga
  • All 25 teams in both polls are duplicates, but it’s interesting that Xavier was #26 in the AP vs. #30 in the Coaches.
  • We’re a little surprised to not see St. Mary’s and Baylor ranked over teams like Villanova and Kansas, but whatever, that’s their poll, not ours.
  • Alabama gets 16 AP votes but a donut in the Coaches – Mark Gottfried, much?  And LSU is getting too much love for simply getting a new coach.
  • Conference Breakdown – Big East (7 + 2 others receiving votes); ACC (4), Big 10 (3), Big 12 (3), Pac-10 (3), SEC (2), CUSA (1), SoCon (1), WCC (1).
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Be careful walking around Winston-Salem next year

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2008

I just noticed this story this morning, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my colleague rtmsf was aware of this and decided to turn a blind eye to it. . .

As we mentioned before, Wake landed a great 2008 class picking up 3 five-star players (Al-Farouq Aminu, Ty Walker, and Tony Woods). Although all 3 are top prospects, Aminu is widely considered the jewel of the class. Unfortunately, young Mr. Aminu has run into a bit of trouble. According to police reports, on March 14th Aminu went out with 2 of his teammates and shot a woman in the stomach with a BB gun (details of the story here).

A little too happy to be here?

Aminu decided to turn himself into police on March 28th (2 days after his 0-point performance at the McDonald’s All-American game) on charges of felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor criminal trespass. It seems like the victim is doing ok and that her husband has a sense of humor as he is quoted in the story saying that “his shooting at my house was better than his shooting at the McDonald’s game”. The victims also appear to be asking the DA to go easy on Aminu and his teammates. For their part Wake Forest and Dino Gaudio decided to issue the standard reply:

We are in the process of gathering all of the information on this incident and it would not be fair to make any statement or judgment until we collect all of the facts.

We (or at least I) will follow this story and keep you posted if and when anything else comes out. Hopefully after rtmsf fires off a passive aggressive e-mail to me, he can offer some legal insight into the case/charges.

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Does Elevating an Assistant Work?

Posted by rtmsf on August 12th, 2007

Ron Wellman’s decision to elevate Dino Gaudio to the head coaching position at Wake Forest has been universally lauded by the hoopsnascenti over the last couple of days as a great hire. Nobody will dispute that this decision makes sense in terms of continuity for the program, the players and the university. But if you’ll indulge our playing of devil’s advocate for a moment, we ask the question – is this a good hire from a basketball standpoint?

Gaudio press conf

This is a significantly tougher question to address, largely because Gaudio will be evaluated on games yet unplayed. We can point to his unimpressive records at Army and Loyola as evidence of coaching mediocrity; or, we can just as easily dismiss those situations as tantamount to coaching graveyards, where only the truly special of the business can succeed.

So we thought it could be interesting to see how elevating an assistant from within a program tends to work out, historically speaking. We took a look at all the mid- and high-major programs the last three offseasons (2004-06) that elevated an assistant from within its shop to the head coaching position. FYI – there have been six such examples in 2007 – Butler (Brad Stevens), Frank Martin (Kansas St.), Randy Peele (Winthrop), Jeff Reynolds (Air Force), Bob Nash (Hawaii), and Dino Gaudio (Wake Forest).

In 2004, there were four such instances. Three of those new head coaches have gone on to great success at their programs, and the fourth had a solid first year at his before moving on up the ladder the following offseason.

  • Mark Fox – Nevada (following Trent Johnson) : rode Nick Fazekas to an 81-18 record the next three seasons, including two NCAA second round appearances. Contrastingly, his predecessor Johnson has largely struggled over on The Farm.
  • Doc Sadler – UTEP (following Billy Gillispie) : Sadler continued the Texas Western renaissance for two seasons there, going 48-18 with one NCAA and one NIT appearance.
  • Sean Miller – Xavier (following Thad Matta) : Xavier has continued to flourish under Miller, going 63-32 with two NCAA appearances, including the can you top this game vs. Ohio St. in the second round of 2007 that XU should have won.
  • Chris Mooney – Air Force (following Joe Scott) : in his only season at AF, he was 18-12 (a slight drop from 22-7 the year prior) before taking a new job at Richmond.

Can Mark Fox continue his Reno Magic w/o Fazekas?

In 2005, there were only two instances. Here too both could be fairly qualified as successful transitions.

  • Dave Rose – BYU (following Steve Cleveland) : in two seasons, Rose has taken the Cougs to one NCAA appearance and one NIT appearance, going 45-18 over that period.
  • Andy Kennedy – Cincinnati (following Bob Huggins) : Kennedy enjoyed a 21-13 season in his only at the helm after Thuggins was fired, but what’s most telling is the utter collapse in the season after Kennedy was released by UC. The Bearcats were an atrocious 11-19 overall and dead last in the Big East (2-14) in 2006-07. Great decision there.

Last offseason there were four instances, and in a weird coincidence, two of those assistants were coach’s sons who had been formally groomed to take over the program. In one case, the new coach far exceeded his predecessor; in the others, it was largely status quo.

  • Sean Sutton – Oklahoma St. (following Eddie Sutton) : Sean’s first year at the helm for the Pokes was up-and-down. OSU started strong, winning 16 of its first 17 games, but limped into the finish with an overall record of 22-13 (6-10) and losing in the first round of the NIT at home. This was still an improvement over his dad’s final season (17-16) (6-10), however.
  • Tony Bennett – Washington St. (following Dick Bennett) : this was the feel-good story of the year, as son Tony updated his dad’s offense and took the Pac-10 and nation by surprise, going 26-8 (13-5) – a fifteen win improvement – and making the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1994.
  • Ben Jacobson – Northern Iowa (following Greg McDermott) : this very solid mid-major program had its first non-NCAA appearance in four years during Jacobson’s first season at the helm, as his team sputtered to a pedestrian 18-13 campaign in the very competitive MVC.
  • Fred Hill – Rutgers (following Gary Waters) : Hill’s first season is one he’d like to forget, we’re sure. The Scarlet Knights were 10-19 (3-13) and battled with Cincinnati for the distinction as worst team in the Big East all season long. Waters’ final season ended at 19-10, which was a cause for celebration with Rutgers basketball.


Tony Bennett is the Model for Gaudio

Obviously, it’s tough to draw a persuasive conclusion from this sample size, and we also realize that every situation involves different factors. Nevertheless, we find it striking that in seven of the ten instances above, the assistant coach who was elevated either outperformed his predecessor or kept the program at the level of success it already enjoyed (or not enjoyed, as with Oklahoma St.). In two cases, there was a slight dropoff from previous levels, and in only one case of a single season sample there was a significant decrease.

The problem with analyzing Gaudio’s situation at Wake in this light is that status quo means that he’ll be regularly finishing in the cellar of the ACC. With the recruits he has arriving one year from now, he’ll be expected to significantly outperform what Prosser accomplished during the last two seasons. Put another way, Deacon faithful will be satisfied with nothing less than challenging for the ACC title and annual NCAA appearances – much like the first four years of Prosser’s tenure. This is a high bar, but if the recent history of Gaudio’s peers is any indication, he may have a great shot at clearing it.

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Yabba Dabba Doo…

Posted by rtmsf on August 7th, 2007

As we predicted earlier today, if any decision came from Wake this week, we figured that would mean that Ron Wellman decided that the next steward of the Demon Deacons would be one of the two assistant coaches, Dino Gaudio or Jeff Battle. Sure enough, the buzz this evening around the campus and later confirmed by Andy Katz is that Dino Gaudio has been offered a three-year contract to coach the Deacs. Exhibiting the confidence that Wellman has in him, he will not be an interim coach. A press conference has been scheduled for 11am EDT tomorrow.

Dino Flintstones

The fifty-year old coach was a head coach for seven seasons prior to his latest stint at Wake, first at Army and later at Loyola (Maryland). His record at those schools was uninspiring (68-124) for an imminent ACC coach, but this is still probably a decent hire for several reasons. First, his presence alone ensures continuity with the current players and the recruiting haul due on campus a year from now. Second, the contract is only three years, which probably mirrors the length of time that Prosser would have been given to turn the program around – if Gaudio turns out to not be the right hire, Wellman won’t have to make a large buyout in order to move forward. Finally, by keeping things “within the family,” you get the sense that Skip would have wanted this, and the WFU community should respond quite favorably in kind.

Good Luck, Dino.

Update:  Today’s press conference revealed that Gaudio has a five-year deal in place (not three years, as previously reported) to coach the Deacons.  His excitement during his introduction was apparent, and he said all the right things – commitment to defense and halfcourt execution, stress on academics, etc. – to sate the assembled media and WFU partisans.  While we ultimately feel this is a good hire, we also recognize that Gaudio has considerable work ahead of him.  He seems capable and aware, but the stress of the rigors of the ACC can wear down any coach, especially one who was content to be a high-profile assistant just two weeks ago and has had to endure a very emotional ordeal.  The 2007-08 season will be his honeymoon, but when the AT&T class arrives on campus next summer, expectations will shoot through the roof.  How he handles that class will likely act as the bellwether for his duration as head coach at the school.     

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Tuesday Thoughts…

Posted by rtmsf on August 7th, 2007

Again these are thoughts that are bouncing around in our head but are too shallow to merit a full posting…

  • Wake Forest Coaching Search.  We’re not hearing anything out of The Dash that may indicate which way Ron Wellman is leaning at this point.  Anyone who knows anything is tightlipped.  We have to believe that if his plan is to elevate assistant Dino Gaudio or Jeff Battle to the head coaching position, then it would happen this week.  No need to prolong things.  If Wake doesn’t have a new coach by Friday, however, then that indicates to us that Wellman is putting feelers out to other coaches such as Anthony Grant, Mike Montgomery and Brad Brownell to gauge their interest.  Stay tuned…
  • Chamin-awed.  We thought this was a neat find (from a neat site).  Lion in Oil reports that Chaminade University, longtime giant-killer and host of the annual Maui Invitational, is sponsoring a contest to produce a new logo for its sports teams, the Silverswords.  Might we suggest a caricature of 6’2 Chaminade guard Tim Dunham dunking in Ralph Sampson’s face as the defining moment for that school?
  • Football Players Think Bloggers are Lame.  You may have caught a recent cnnsi.com poll where they asked college football players the following question:
    •  Do you read message boards or blogs where fans discuss your team? 
    • 39.5% yes
    • 60.5% no
  • We doubt college hoopsters are any more or less savvy than their football counterparts, so we’ll assume the percentages are roughly equal for both sports.  Which is fine.  We wouldn’t want some of the guys we rip (cough, McBob) to come after us anyway.   Not because we’re afraid of him, mind you – rather, we just don’t want his unadulterated douchiness getting that close to us. 
  • Barry Bonds.   Now that the Greatest American Hero is set to spend the next week grounding out as he endeavors to assault the MLB record books one last time, we always wondered what could have been.  BB was regarded as the best all-around athlete at Junipero Serra HS in San Mateo, CA, a school with no shortage of athletes over the years (Jim Fregosi, Lynn Swann, Tom Brady).  According to his biographer Jeff Pearlman:

“Barry started as a small forward on the freshman basketball team [at Junipero Serra] that winter – a quick slasher with decent court vision, a mediocre outside shot, and no right hand to speak of.  But the athleticism was otherworldly.  Whereas many of his peers struggled to touch rim, Barry dunked and swatted shots off the backboard.  He was unlike anyone Serra had seen in years.  And this was his second best sport.” 

  • So there you have it.  Bonds was a sick athlete for a high school freshman, but unlike say, Dave Winfield or David Justice, he likely wasn’t skilled enough to ultimately become a great hoops player.  We should all be thankful for that.     
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Posted by rtmsf on August 1st, 2007

As the Wake Forest community struggles to begin the healing process after the shocking death of Coach Skip Prosser last week, fans and alumni are left wondering what will happen next?  While there’s a standard protocol in place for when a coach retires, leaves for another program or simply gets fired, there really isn’t one for something like this.  Wake’s AD Ron Wellman is facing some tough internal conflicts:

When is the appropriate time to begin talking about replacing a man that was so dear to the campus community?

How do you strike a proper balance between respect for the man’s family and legacy while also working in the best long-term interests of the school?

What do you say to the players and recruits about the direction in which the program will be going, as their lives and futures are most impacted by your immediate decisions?

Ron Wellman 

Wellman Has a Difficult Road Ahead to Navigate

We don’t envy Wellman’s position, as he is facing an extremely precarious situation.  Any decision made too rashly or emotionally could negatively affect the basketball (and overall sports) program for the next decade.  Any decision made too callously or calculatingly could result in a negative undercurrent that could also tarnish the integrity of the school and program.  The key for Wellman, as when he hired Prosser and football coach Jim Grobe, is to find a situation that appropriately balances all factors to the greatest extent possible.  MUCH easier said than done.

The Wake Forest message boards have already been buzzing about possible replacements for Coach Prosser, and as expected, they have fallen into two camps.  As best we can ballpark it, from half to two-thirds of Wake fans would like to see Wellman promote from within, giving either of Prosser’s assistant coaches Dino Gaudio or Jeff Battle a chance to lead the program without the dreaded “interim” tag attached.  There are a couple of recent precedents for this course of action – Northwestern promoted its top assistant Pat Fitzgerald when its head football coach, Randy Walker, unexpectedly died in July 2006.  Indiana did likewise with Bill Lynch when its head football coach, Terry Hoeppner, died of a brain tumor in June 2007.  Wellman may feel less pressure to make this move with the announcement today that the vaunted “AT&T” class of 2008 are expected to keep their verbal commitments to the school.   

The remainder would like to see Wellman open up a national search for a new coach.  Despite the lateness of the season in the coaching carousel, there is a reasonable expectation that some coaches would leave their current programs mid-stream in order to have an opportunity at an ACC school with a top-rated recruiting class set to arrive.  The most commonly discussed names (with positives and negatives below) are:

  • Mike Montgomery – former head coach of Stanford (1986-2004) and the Golden State Warriors (2004-06)
    • Monty is the only former D1 coach out there who is currently available.
    • He fits the “profile” in that he ran a clean program in a strict academic environment at a small private school competing in a BCS conference.
    • Very successful at Stanford and Montana (25 winning seasons in 26 years), including a F4 appearance in 1998.
    • Would a long-time California guy want to move to the east coast?
    • He is sixty years old – would he have the requisite drive and/or interest at this point in his life?

Mike Montgomery

Can Wake Lure Monty out of Retirement?

  • Anthony Grant – current VCU head coach (2006-present) and former uber-recruiter under Billy Donovan at Florida (1996-2006)
    • Clearly he’s on the fast track to a major job – it’s simply a matter of when and where?
    • Plays an exciting uptempo style of ball honed while on staff with Billy D at Florida.
    • Has shown he can beat Duke in March.
    • Only one year of collegiate head coaching experience (although a very good year at VCU).
    • 41 years old – inexperienced, but potential to become Wake’s coach for the next 25 years. 

Anthony Grant

How About Anthony Grant?

  • Gregg Marshall – current Wichita St. head coach (2007) and former Winthrop head coach (1998-2007)
    • A (South) Carolina guy who is familiar with the ins and outs of recruiting in the area as well as the ACC.
    • Just took a job with Wichita St. in April 2007 after nine very successful seasons at Winthrop – too disruptive and unfair to WSU?
    • Style of play could be a problem – Wake fans tend to want to play uptempo basketball, and Marshall’s teams are slower than Xmas. 
    • 44 years old, but experienced and very successful considering he was at a Big South school for nine seasons (7 NCAA appearances)
  • Bob McKillop – current Davidson head coach (1989-present)
    • Another coach familiar with the landscape of the ACC, having worked and recruited in the area for nearly two decades.
    • Tremendous success at a small academically-oriented school (4 NCAA appearances and 3 NIT appearances in the last fourteen seasons).
  • Brad Brownell – current Wright St. head coach (2006-present) and former UNC-Wilmington head coach (2002-06)
    • Another young (38 years old) up-and-comer who has had oustanding success in five short years at UNC-Wilmington (2 NCAAs in 4 seasons) and Wright St. (1 NCAA in 1 season).
    • Roots are in the midwest although he spent four recent years in North Carolina, so he should understand the lay of the land.

 Bob McKillop

Or a Darkhorse Like McKillop?

Whichever direction Wellman chooses to go, he undoubtedly has his work cut out for him.  Stay tuned, as we’ll be all over the story if something breaks. 


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