Jim Calhoun‘s non-announcement announcement that he plans to return to the Connecticut sidelines for the 2011-12 season was no shocker to anybody. If it wasn’t the interminable wait for a ‘final’ decision that tipped you off, it was the well-placed leaks from key recruits and their families; if you still weren’t convinced, surely the announcement that superstar center Andre Drummond had chosen to reclassify to the Class of 2011 and play for the Huskies this coming season clinched it. Regardless of when you believed he’d be back, Calhoun will coach his team this season at the rather ripe age of 69 years old (he turns 70 next May) and, despite some health issues in the past, he shows few signs of slowing down. And, in fact, his team will be on the short list of contenders after North Carolina and Kentucky most likely to cut the nets down next April in New Orleans.
Why Would Calhoun Give This Up?
We know that with his third national title last season, the curmudgeonly coach passed Kansas’ Phog Allen (66) as the oldest coach to win a college basketball national title, but with a stacked team returning and a few more gray hairs on top of his head, it got us wondering who his senior citizen peers are within the other sports. Here’s the list of oldest coaches to have won a title in each of the major team sports:
MLB – Jack McKeon (2003), 72 years old
NCAA Football – Bobby Bowden (1999), 69 years old
NCAA Basketball – Jim Calhoun (2011), 68 years old
NFL – George Halas (1963), 68 years old
NHL – Scotty Bowman (2002), 68 years old
NBA – Phil Jackson (2010), 64 years old
Calhoun’s championship last season falls right into the middle of that list, but if he were to win another one next spring a mere five weeks shy of his 70th birthday, he’d trail only the inimitable Jack McKeon as the oldest head coach to win a major title in American team sports. All due respect to McKeon and our friends in Major League Baseball, but Calhoun’s hands-on approach in teaching 18-21 year-old players is a completely different job than delegating those duties to a coaching staff to train older professionals — from our viewpoint, the daily demands on Calhoun’s energy are considerably more.
It’s October. The leaves are starting to turn colors. Halloween candy is already in the stores. There have been a few nights where you may have even turned on the heat. Midnight Madness is imminent and RTC is full bore into the 2010-11 Season Preview materials headfirst. For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series. The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season. Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package. As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy. What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays. Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.
Chris Warren – Sr, G – Ole Miss. Returning from a torn ACL he suffered just 12 games into his sophomore season in 2008-09, Ole Miss’ Chris Warren had some folks concerned after his first game back last season when he played only 27 minutes, scored just nine points, and struggled with a 3-11 shooting night against Arkansas-Little Rock. Six days later, though, he and his fellow Rebels cruised down to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, where Warren scored 16, 27 and 24 points, respectively, in wins against Indiana and Kansas State and a loss in the final to Villanova. He averaged just under 32 minutes over those three contests and shot a combined 23-45, and, perhaps more importantly, put to bed any remaining fears about the status of that knee. Warren would go on to start all 35 games last year, average 32.9 MPG (tops on his team) and put up only two other single-digit scoring efforts for the whole season. His 17.2 PPG from last season means he’s the second-leading returning scorer in the SEC, trailing only Georgia’s Trey Thompkins by half of a point. When you hear numbers like this, it’s easy to forget that the guy’s doing all this as a 5’10 point guard, another testament to his toughness. Despite his role at the point, ignoring his outside shot isn’t recommended, either; he finished 14th in the nation with 3.4 threes per game, and led the SEC in three-point shooting in league games at 43.8%. Warren’s achievements earned him an all-SEC second team slot last year and we’re certain to see him on the Bob Cousy Award nominee list (again), and wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a finalist. If Mississippi is to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years, head coach Andy Kennedy will need that kind of final season from his floor leader.
You May Not Yet Know Thompkins, But You Will
Trey Thompkins – Jr, F – Georgia. After toiling behind Florida and Kentucky for years in the SEC, Mark Fox has the Bulldogs poised for a resurgence. While many Georgia fans are focused on the recruitment of Kentavious Caldwell and Julian Royal this year, Thompkins along with Travis Leslie (below) could lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA Tournament. After an exceptional sophomore season where he averaged 17.7 PPG and 8.3 RPG and briefly considered leaving Athens to enter the NBA Draft, Thompkins has a legitimate chance at being a 20/10 player this year, which is something that only Artsiom Parakhouski and Omar Samhan did last year and neither Radford nor St. Mary’s play in the SEC. Most NBA Draft experts already had Thompkins pegged as a borderline first round pick after last season and he should only improve on that as he continues to refine his game. With his combination of a solid outside game to match a developing inside game Thompkins has more than made up for his primary weakness—his relative lack of explosiveness—to become one of the top power forwards in the country. Unfortunately that was hidden from most of the country as the Bulldogs were buried on regional coverage as they managed a meager five SEC wins last season. If Leslie learns to translate some of that athleticism into a more complete overall game and Fox is able to get production out of freshman Marcus Thornton and transfer Gerald Robinson, the Bulldogs could be in the second tier of SEC teams this year just being UF and UK, but still in the spotlight enough that we get to see much more of Thompkins. Although you will probably see more of Leslie on ESPN’s highlight reel-laden recaps on television, if you look at the box score you will end up seeing that it is more likely that Thompkins did the majority of the hard work. Now that Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins have left Kentucky, Thompkins should be the top inside player in the SEC (at least until the NCAA figures out what to do with Enes Kanter) and has a chance to contend for SEC Player of the Year.
JC of HBCUSportsBlog is the RTC correspondent for the MEAC and SWAC conferences.Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Alabama State (20-9)
Jackson State (16-13)
Alabama A&M (15-11)
Prairie View (13-16)
Mississippi Valley State (13-18)
Alcorn State (10-19)
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (10-19)
Texas Southern (9-20)
Grambling State (5-21)
Christopher Jones (G) – Prairie View – Purest point guard in the SWAC, but will have to reduce his turnovers for the Panthers to be successful this season.
Troy Jackson (G) – Alcorn State – Ruthless scorer who also shot better than 40 percent from the field in 08-09.
Grant Maxey (F) – Jackson State – Versatile forward will likely emerge as the 09-10 SWAC Player of the Year
Douglas Scott (F) – Southern – Tenacious rebounder, came on late last season with three double-doubles in his last five games.
Darnell Hugee (C) – Prairie View – If he stays out of foul trouble, could be one of the best post players in Division I basketball.
6th Man. Deandre Hall (G) – Texas Southern – Turnover prone, but can do damage from interior and perimeter.
What You Need to Know. The SWAC is among the worst conferences in all of Division I basketball. There’s no sugarcoating the lack of talent and the brutal out-of-conference schedules that the SWAC member schools play just to keep their athletic budgets afloat. But what they are lacking in appeal and talent, their upper-echelon teams make up for in competitive drive and great coaching. Alabama State took SEC opponents Auburn and Mississippi to the wire on the road last season before dropping both games by fewer than five points.
Predicted Champion. Jackson State (NCAA Seed: #16). Jackson State has played second fiddle to Alabama State in the regular season for two years in a row. But while the Tigers return key seniors Grant Maxey and Garrison Johnson, the Hornets of ASU lost a lot in the departure of PG Brandon Brooks and forward Andrew Hayles. The JSU Tigers will prevail in the conference championship, but not without serious tests from the likes of Prairie View and Alabama State.
Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Atlantic South) are located here.
It’s time for the fourth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of states bordering the Gulf of Mexico known as the Deep South region. Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season. Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation. Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man. We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off. The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?
Ed. Note: our assumption is that Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney will not be eligible to play this season.
Aubrey Coleman – Sr, G – Houston. Young Mr. Coleman was a controversial pick for our panel, to say the least. There’s no denying his talent, but the 6’4 rock of a player went national (and viral) last season for his footplant on Chase Budinger’s face during a game at Arizona. Seriously, that thing made what Christian Laettner did to Aminu Timberlake in 1992 look like playtime in the sandbox. Coleman served his one-game suspension for the ugly incident, and proceeded to take out any residual anger he might have on the rest of Conference USA to the tune of twelve double-doubles and becoming the only player to finish in the top five in both CUSA scoring and rebounding. Yeah, rebounding. At 6’4. Playing guard. If that doesn’t give you a clue as to Coleman’s toughness (despite his cowardly act against Budinger), we don’t know what will. Despite his position, Coleman makes it a common practice to regularly venture into the lane for frequent trips to the foul line on offense and for rebounds on defense (ranks #294 in def reb%). He also ranked in the top 25 nationally in steals, and we should point out that only three guards in the entire country pulled down more boards per game than Coleman. About the only part of Coleman’s game that isn’t quite honed is his outside shot (21% on threes), but he doesn’t take many, which shows recognition of his strengths and weaknesses. With two star players (including Kelvin Lewis) returning for their senior seasons in Houston, it’s safe to say that Tom Penders is sitting on an explosive duo who could lead UH to a successful slate in a wide-open CUSA and its first NCAA Tournament appearance in nearly twenty years.
Damion James – Sr, F – Texas. Just three days prior to the declaration deadline for the 2009 NBA Draft, Damion James told Texas head coach Rick Barnes that he’d be returning for a final season in Austin, a decision that drastically alters the expectations of a Longhorns team that underachieved a campaign ago. Texas should be a top-five team in 2009-10 due to an influx of talent from all angles: from returnees like Dexter Pittman, to transfers like Jai Lucas, stud freshmen like Avery Bradley and, most importantly, a senior season from Damion James. James has just about as much pure athletic talent as any forward in the nation featuring an NBA-ready body, constant activity on the glass and an ability to run the floor like few other 6’7 forwards. The issue with James has always been complacency and wavering effort. Often James will hang around the perimeter, settle for outside shots, disappear when his team needs him the most or settle for being a secondary figure when a player with the ability of James should always be The Man. When James is motivated, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player in the Big 12 that can contain him. James finished on the All-Big 12 Second Team his junior season after finishing with 15.4 ppg and 9.2 rpg a year following a sophomore campaign in which James averaged a double-double. James ranked fourth in the Big 12 in rebounding, tenth in the conference in scoring and totaled double-figures on 31 occasions in 2008-09. A player the caliber of James should be right there with Cole Aldrich and Craig Brackins at the top of potential Big 12 POY candidates for the upcoming season. He should be a first round pick and he should average another double-double. One of the reasons I have Texas pegged #2 in the nation preseason is because I trust James to provide that consistent effort for Rick Barnes in search of a very realistic Final Four.
JC of HBCUSportsBlog is the RTC correspondent for the SWAC and MEAC Conferences.With the end of the regular season imminent, both conference wrap-ups are below this week.
And so it is nearly finished. A final act for the SWAC conference that is low on team talent, but with a few programs that have a legitimate shot of scoring more than 29 points against the number one seed in the national tournament.
Alabama State paces the conference, and is poised to eclipse 19 wins for the second-consecutive season. On their heels is Jackson State, with just two conference losses on the year and one courtesy of Alabama State.
JC of HBCUSportsBlog is the RTC correspondent for the SWAC and MEAC Conferences.
Just when you were starting to get those early brackets together and were set to peg the SWAC as the 65th seed, the top two teams in the conference may have you thinking otherwise.
Alabama State and Jackson State are coming down the stretch for the top seed in the conference and the inglorious mockery of the college hoops nation heading into March Madness. But there’s a lot more to the Hornets and Jaguars than being a play-in place holder.
Here’s the scoop on the this week in the SWAC.
THIS WEEK –Alabama State was this close to being undefeated in the SWAC conference. A hiccup against Alcorn State is the Hornets’ lone defeat of 2009, and one of two in the last 14 games. Jackson State has traveled a similar road, with two winning streaks of four games or better in 2009, and only two conference losses to Prairie View A&M and…Alabama State.
JC of HBCU Sports Blog is the RTC correspondent for the MEAC and SWAC Conferences.
If we ever needed insight on SWAC basketball before, we sure do need it now. A new contender in the conference has emerged, and there’s some explanation as to why the SWAC champion deserves better than the play in game this season.
So before you scoff, at least check out the evidence from the week that was in the SWAC.
THIS WEEK – Alabama State and Prairie View A&M have had winning streaks of seven and six games, respectively. The next longest winning streak? That belongs to the University of Arkansas – Pine Bluff Golden Lions, who shocked Prairie View last Monday at home to pull ahead of Jackson State for third place in the conference standings.
Despite what you see from the SWAC in relation to their conference RPI, remember that these teams play a full-slate of out-of-conference games on the road to open the season. When you stack their records against those of other mid-major conferences, (Big South, A-10, etc.) you see that there is a real way to look at their numbers and a skewed way.
Unfortunately, the tournament selection committee often takes the skewed route.
JC of HBCU Sports Blog is the RTC correspondent for the SWAC and MEAC Conferences.
In all of the hubbub surrounding the MEAC big win last week via Morgan State University, somewhere lost in the Bible Belt was the beginning of conference play for the SWAC. Conference play signals the end of merciless beatings on the road at the hands of power conference teams, and a chance for southwestern trash talkers to get their pipes warmed up for March.
Let’s take a look at some of the action from the week that was in the SWAC.
THIS WEEK – With conference play in full swing, three teams – Alabama State, Jackson State and Prairie View A&M are beginning to distance themselves from the rest of the SWAC competition. The Hornets and the Panthers are 3-0 so far, and the Tigers are 2-1. Both the Hornets (Alabama State) and the Panthers (Prairie View) have won at least five of their last ten.
JC of HBCUSportsBlog is the RTC correspondent for the SWAC and MEAC Conferences.
In case you thought differently, the SWAC is still pulling up the rear in Division I basketball. Just once, you want to associate these hard working teams with other descriptors than “lopsided defeat” or “demoralizing road trip.” But, the SWAC has to make money, and we should all credit them for their hard work in trying to build solid programs.
So let’s take a look at the hardest working conference in America.
JC of HBCUSportsBlog is the RTC correspondent for the SWAC and MEAC conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Alabama State (20-11) (15-3)
Jackson State (14-20) (10-8)
Miss. Valley State (17-16) (12-6)
Southern (11-19) (9-9)
Alabama A&M (14-15) (11-7)
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (13-18) (8-10)
Grambling State (7-19) (7-11)
Prairie View A&M (8-22) (6-12)
Texas Southern (7-25) (6-12)
Alcorn State (7-24) (6-12)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K). The SWAC Conference has long been the laughingstock of Division I basketball. They are the perennial #16 seed in the national tournament (nine straight years), and are generally viewed as a warm-up for the number one team in the nation in their quest for the Final Four. Last year the league champion, Mississippi Valley St., set a record for worst FG% (19.7%) in an NCAA Tournament game en route to 29 total points against UCLA. The SWAC is a casualty of out-of-conference guaranteed games, limited resources and a sports audience that knows it by its alias, “Who is North Carolina playing in the first game?”
Others Considered.Jackson State University returns two of the conference’s top-ten leading scorers in Grant Maxey and Darrion Griffin, and Southern University was the SWACs best three-point shooting team and among its best defensive units.
Games to Watch. No reason to pretend that SWAC regular season games have national interest, but here’s a few contests that basketball purists will enjoy.
Jackson State vs. Alabama State (01.3.09). It’s the rematch from the 2008 SWAC tournament, with Alabama State hosting the Tigers who upset them in the semi-final.
Southern vs. Mississippi Valley State (02.16.09). If the Jaguars continue their hot-shooting ways from the 07-08 season, this game could have tournament seeding implications for the favored Delta Devils.
RPI Booster Games. Arizona State had a close call in the 2008 N.I.T. against Alabama State, and while it won’t be close at home against the Delta Devils, you can’t blame a guy for trying.
Mississippi Valley State @ Arizona State (11.14.08)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Not gonna happen. No need to pretend.
Neat-o Stat.Joel Bosh, a standout forward for the Alabama State Hornets last season, was invited to participate with the Toronto Raptors summer league team. If the name sounds familiar, it should be; he is the brother of NBA all-star and gold medal Olympian Chris Bosh.
65-Team Era. The SWAC is 4-28 all-time in the NCAA Tourney, and the last time a SWAC team won a game was in 1993, when Southern University defeated Georgia Tech.
Final Thought. The way to be a fan of SWAC basketball is not to look solely at wins and losses, but to look at the historical place of the conference and how hard they are working to get better. Or, you could just not watch at all.
What You Need to Know (WYN2K). Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the worst basketball conference in America! For three years running, the Southwestern Athletic Conference has found itself at the absolute bottom of every major computer ranking system (RPI, Sagarin & Pomeroy) as its ten schools have gone a collective 32-229 (.123) in OOC games during the last three seasons (easily the worst). Its sacrificial lamb league champion has received eight straight #16 seeds in the NCAAs and four of those teams were relegated to the dreaded play-in game. Just how bad is it? Consider that tournament champion Jackson St. and regular-season champion Mississippi Valley St. were the only two schools with overall winning records last year – no other conference member won more than eleven games. There are no encouraging signs of change for this season.
Predicted Champion.Alabama A&M (#16 Seed NCAA). Yes, we’re predicting a worst-to-first here, but the Bulldogs are the only SWAC school returning all five starters from last season, including dynamic sophomore guards Trant Sampson and Cornelius Hester as well as 6’11 defensive freak Mickell Gladness (6.3 bpg), who blocked an astonishing 20.5% of shots while he was on the court last season.
Others Considered. Grambling is an interesting team because they return four starters including the SWAC’s best all-around player Andre Ratliff, but they also open a brand-new 7500-seat arena and we shouldn’t discount the “new barn” effect. Mississippi Valley St. is another team to watch because they won the regular-season crown last season and return former Southern Miss coach James Green, who has inspired his teams to play maddening D, which will keep them in the hunt.
Games to Watch. There’s only one game you’ll find on tv from the SWAC, and it’s the only game that matters for this conference all season.
SWAC Championship Game (03.15.08).
RPI Booster Games. The SWAC plays 28 games against BCS conference opponents, and 26 of those are on the road. In a weird scheduling coincidence, only Auburn deigns to venture into a SWAC gym, and it does so twice – it could lose either of these if Lebo’s team isn’t careful.
Auburn @ Alabama St. (11.17.07)
Auburn @ Southern (12.16.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Nil. It’s never happened before, and the reality of the non-conference “guarantee games” in the SWAC will ensure it doesn’t happen again this year.
All-Name Team. Alabama St.’s Grlenntys “Chief” Kickingstallionsims is a cinch for national honors, but Texas Southern’s St. Paul Latham is another worthy candidate.
Neat-o Stat. The SWAC likes to run, as half of its teams were among the top 62 fastest tempos in the nation in 06-07. By the same token, though, none can shoot the ball, as 9 of its 10 teams were among the bottom 35 teams last year in effective FG%.
65-Team Era. The SWAC is 1-21 in the era. Southern University (#13) defeated Georgia Tech (#4) 93-78 in the first round of the 1993 NCAA Tourney.
Final Thought. The SWAC isn’t worth much in basketball, so we’ll give it some love for something it’s actually good at.