Rush the Court would like to wish everybody around college basketball nation a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. Now, pass the mashed potatoes, Bilas…
Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference and an ACC microsite staffer.
Question: Coach K will become the all-time winningest coach soon. Is he the greatest coach in NCAA basketball history? If not, where does he rank?
Yes, but with a disclaimer. Mike Krzyzewski is the greatest coach of the modern era. You can define that era in many ways: the expansion of the NCAA Tournament (either when in 1975 it expanded to 32 teams, or when in 1985 it expanded to the truly modern 64 teams); the adoption of the shot clock (1985-86); the addition of the three-point line (nationally in 1986-87); or the advent of ESPN (1979 NCAA Tournament).
Truthfully, the best interpretation is somewhere in between, for all four of these events led to the game we know and love today. The expansion of the Big Dance made the NCAA Tournament more difficult both because more games separated teams from the championship and because at-larges increased the overall talent of the field. The shot clock redefined offenses and frankly made the game more exciting. The three-point field goal introduced statistical “noise” that created large swings in performance and allowed for more upsets (basically, a 40-minute game is a small enough sample size that even a horrendous shooting team like Florida State to go 9-19 from three and a good shooting Notre Dame team to go 7-30 from downtown). Finally, ESPN’s consistent coverage of college basketball symbiotically raised the popularity of both ESPN and men’s hoops.
But to suggest that Coach K is a better coach than John Wooden would be too presumptive. There are plenty of arguments, but no sound logic can definitively put Krzyzewski over the Wizard of Westwood: Wooden won ten national championships in 12 years including an 88-game winning streak that is without a doubt the most dominant stretch of college basketball ever. If you still want to try to argue Coach K over John Wooden, read that one more time. I am not saying that Wooden would see that success now, but it is not like we are dealing with similar resumes. Wooden has as many titles as Coach K, Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, and Tom Izzo (or Bill Self) combined.
Another preseason preview gives us reason to roll out the 2011-12 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured the most compelling moments from the 2010-11 season, many of which will bring back the goosebumps and some of which will leave you shaking your head in frustration. For the complete list of this year’s reasons, click here. Enjoy!
#18 – Where Mid-Major Public Enemy #1 Happens
ESPN.com had an interesting series of stories that went up today regarding various folks’ favorite college basketball arenas to visit and the toughest ones to play in. As always when you read blurbs of primary source information, it’s enlightening to see the reasoning behind their choices. For example, we never knew that NC State’s old home was such an ACC snake pit, but ESPN commentators Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis both independently cited Reynolds Coliseum as the toughest arena they ever played in. Davis even claimed that he never scored “on the opposite basket away from our bench in the first half” due to the flustered situation he found himself in all four years he visited Raleigh.
A number of media types also weighed in with their favorite places to experience a game, and several of the old faithfuls represent well here — Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (3 votes), Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse (2 votes) and the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden (2 votes) — along with a few other tried-and-trues including Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stanford’s Maples Pavilion, Penn’s Palestra, and UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion (1 vote each). But it was the list provided by Dana O’Neil (excellent usage of “sepia,” by the way) from her interviews of several head coaches back in July on the recruiting trail that really caught our eye. First, here’s her list:
Fifteen prominent coaches chose nine different arenas between them. Three of those are already retired to the dustbin of history, and three others are clearly a personal house of horrors to specific coaches. Not many people in this business will choose a place like Murray State Arena over somewhere like the Kohl Center or Breslin Arena, but Big Ten coach Bruce Weber did. The remaining joints are again places we’re all familiar with as incredibly difficult to walk out with a win, but we quickly noticed that there was something peculiar about the responses among O’Neil’s interviewees. Take a closer look — of the 15 coaches, only one of them gave an answer that includes a site where his team must regularly play games.
Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the year. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yesterday we brought you Part I of our One on One interview with the always-entertaining Tom Brennan. In addition to learning that integration helped knock him out of a starting spot at Georgia and that his athletic director at Yale all but pushed him out the door to Vermont, we re-discovered that the man simply loves to tell stories. Whether it involves him telling his new boss that he’s already fulfilled all his career goals or thinking he had coaching all figured out at the tender age of 27, he had us riveted to each and every word. Part II is only better.
Ed. Note: Brennan uses some colorful language during this interview, so if you’re sensitive to such things, you may want to skip past this one.
Rush the Court: Guys like us who study the sport knew you were pretty good in ’03 and ’04, but most of America, though, didn’t know about you guys until that ’05 season. The ESPN program helped with that, but then of course the NCAA Tournament run built upon it. You guys really caught lightning in a bottle in terms of national coverage, and with Taylor Coppenrath, TJ Sorrentine, and yourself, you all became national names almost overnight. What was that like?
Tom Brennan: We were pretty. We really were pretty. I had this radio show every morning during morning drive-time. It was like something out of a novel. Sorrentine was the little street kid from Pawtucket [RI], you know, who was the leader and had his hat on sideways. And Coppenrath was like Lil’ Abner; he was from a town of 200 people, and they loved him. They loved him! He never complained; he was really a treat. And then I had three or four other guys that just really blended in. I always say this — like, David Hehn — the first year we won [in 2003], we won at BU, and he made a jumper with about five seconds to go to win the game. So now, it’s Vermont’s first championship, we win it on the road. Everybody’s nuts, but then we had Coppenrath and Sorrentine. You know, Sorrentine was out that year, and he’s coming back and he’d been the MVP. And the year he was out, Coppenrath was the MVP. So now I got these two studs, and they’re both really good, but I also have to manage all this sh– to make sure everybody is on the same page. Like Hehn went from a superhero to A Chorus Line — he went back, “just let me guard the other team’s best player.” But if any of those kids had ego problems, I think we could have blown up. They were just so good about it, and everybody really was into the idea that we’re all better if we’re together, and we’re all better if we don’t care who gets the credit and that kind of stuff. As cliched as it sounds, it really was the truth. Coppenrath and Sorrentine were both ultimate teammates, and the other three guys were as well. And we were tough! We’d been around — all the same guys — for three years, then ESPN got interested. ESPN The Magazine did a big story on us, and Sports Illustrated. It was off the hook, and it’s such a little state and we’re the only Division I school, and people just went crazy about it. Really, those guys were like the Beatles — they really were.
RTC: So let me ask you about those three NCAA Tournaments. In succession, you went up against Lute Olson, Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo. [laughter] There’s no break there, right? What was that like? Olson’s now retired — he coached until he was about 150, but these other guys continue to get it done even as they advance well into their coaching careers. What is it about these coaches that makes them so successful?
TB: I always said, “if God had another son, he would look like Lute Olson.” It was remarkable what Calhoun did last year — he finished ninth in their league! And it’s not like he’s going to rally them — he’s a bad-ass. You know, he gets in those kids’ faces; he doesn’t take no for an answer. I mean, he’s just ruthless, and yet, man, they did it. They did it. I was always impressed with that, and what happened was… it was funny. I was so in awe of Lute Olson — it was just unbelievable, because, again, the guy was like a god to me — and I didn’t know him, but I just knew of him, and what he’d done and what he’d accomplished and how he looked and he was always so gracious. And so I’m walking down, we’re getting ready to play them, and what happened was that his wife had died a while back, and then he ended up with this woman from Pennsylvania [Christine Olson] — I don’t even know how the hell it happened, but she was like a Republican leader, some big deal from Pennsylvania — and I read this thing where he was very happy. That he’d met this woman and she’d really made him happy, so I didn’t think much of it, but when I was walking down to say hello to him, I was so nervous. Honest to God, I wasn’t even nervous about the game, I was nervous about him! Because I knew, they’re a #1, we’re a #16 — I mean, they had [Andre] Iguodala, they had all kinds of players on that team. We had been stuck in the snow, we didn’t get to Salt Lake until 1:30 in the morning, and we played at 11. It was crazy. It was just crazy. Our kids were like, “f—, look where we are.” And that’s the thing, by the time the second year came around [against UConn in 2004], we really weren’t that shook, and by the time the third year came around [against Syracuse in 2005], we knew that we could win. We really knew we were good enough. So, anyway, I go up to Lute Olson, and he said, “Coach, how are you?” And I said, “Coach, I just wanna say that I’m just so happy that you’ve found peace in your personal life.” I’m thinking to myself, “what the f— are you saying?!?!” I’m hearing these words come out, and I’m thinking, “you a–hole!” I didn’t even know what to say to him; I was so awestruck, honest to God. So he said, “well, thank you.” And I just turned and ran like a rabbit, and thought “jeezus… good first impression, there.” But you know what, when I retired, he wrote me the nicest letter. He wrote me a beautiful letter, and so it was nice. But you know, we never had a chance. [Vermont lost 80-51.] I have a picture on my cell and we were up, like 7-6, got it blown up and put it on my wall. But then, and this is a cute story too. We got stuck in the snow, and I went on [Tony] Kornheiser’s show, PTI or whatever it was — I guess it was his radio show at the time — and I said, “you know, this is ridiculous.” I said, “they make billions of dollars on this thing, and they can’t get us from Denver to Salt Lake City? If you think this was Duke in this hotel, we’d still be here.” I wasn’t even finished, and the AD knocked on the door: “hey, yo, that’s enough about that.” [laughter] So that was enough about that. So then anyway, but what happened was, we did get tapped out, and to take us home, the NCAA felt so bad and I guess my rant had a little bit to do with it, they sent us a plane that [Bruce] Springsteen uses, the Rolling Stones use, and you couldn’t even tell it was a plane. So now, my wife and I are standing at the back, and the captain comes down, and he says, “are you the coach?” I said, “yes, sir. I’m the coach.” He said, “well, you come with me, I’m going to take you to Mick Jagger’s suite.” So I turned to Lynn [Brennan, his wife], I said, “hey, you gotta turn into a Brazilian model by the time we get to the top of the stairs.” [laughter] It was wild. But it was a great experience; it was a great experience for our kids. And I knew that we had a chance to keep going, that we had this group that was good. So then the next year we played UConn, played them tougher than anybody as I recall, on their march to the championship. [Vermont lost 70-53.] I think they beat us less than anybody else, and then the next year we got Syracuse.
Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball. This week, Jesse continues his alienation of Kentucky fans, suggests Mr. Sullinger calm it down for a little bit, and wants D-Will to get his props.
Five Things I Loved This Week
I LOVED…..watching 40 minutes of North Carolina-Kentucky and coming away fairly certain that it was the highest quality of play we’ve witnessed this season. Guard play, NBA talent down low, spurts both ways, a tie game with a few minutes left…wow. There’s no doubt in my mind that those were the two best teams left in the tournament, even though that doesn’t mean the Wildcats will bring home the crown.
I LOVED…..that Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart had to say that “this Final Four banner will stay.” Stay, as in not be taken away like the other two banners that John Calipari has – excuse me, HAD – on his resume. Quite a statement, that your athletic director needs to accentuate that point right after the big win. Yes, I can’t stand Cal. Sue me.
I LOVED…..trying to decipher the Kyrie Irving situation. Common sense said getting him back anywhere near full strength put this Duke team right back in the title picture. But after Nolan Smith struggled in the shocker against Arizona (eight points, six turnovers), you found yourself balancing the effects (Irving had 28 points). The bottom line was summed up perfectly by ESPN’s Jay Bilas. Is there any way that you justify not playing the nation’s best PG? No. And do they win the title without Irving? No way.
I LOVED…..how NC State keeps holding out hope of being a big time program again. Maybe it’s just because I spent four years in the state, but the kooks in Raleigh crack me up every time. With the Wolfpack job open, I’ve already heard “rumors” about Arizona coach Sean Miller and VCU coach Shaka Smart in connection with the job. Who in their right mind would want to go there, especially over a job like Arizona, which is a stay-there-till-you-die destination (weather, history, recruiting, etc.)? State fans are crazy, and any coach who wants to follow Sidney Lowe is crazier. If Smart lives up to his name, he’ll steer clear.
Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.
As we head into the Sweet Sixteen round, let’s take a look back at some of the key questions and moments of the first two, er, three rounds…
RTC Take: It was more interesting than it was the last nine years when it only involved two #16 seeds, but the only way to make it truly compelling is to pick teams with a little more national oomph than USC, VCU, UAB and Clemson.
RTC Take: The fouls at the end of Butler/Pitt offset each other and the two no-calls appeared to be play-on situations in those games. The Kalin Lucas travel probably wouldn’t have impacted the outcome anyway. But the Texas five-second call seemed to be a fast whistle, and it essentially gave Arizona the daylight it needed to win the game.
RTC Take: We really liked the ability to surf between games without too much trouble, and the free online platforms worked great. We did not like having entire afternoons on Saturday & Sunday limited to one game per window, though. That could end up poorly in future years with blowouts.
RTC Take: It’s true that Barkley/Jet don’t do their homework, but the scene where Barkley razzed Pitino about Louisville losing in their first game and clowning the Big East was priceless, well worth putting up with the rest of it. We’ve never seen someone so openly disdainful and dismissive of Pitino in his presence. Awesome.
RTC Take: Was Jimmer, still Jimmer. His performance against Gonzaga was phenomenal, and although Kemba was equally awesome, we still think BYU would essentially be Air Force without Fredette in the lineup.
Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.
RTC will be covering the NCAA Tournament from cover to cover this year, with correspondents at each of the fourteen sites over the next three weeks. These diaries are intended to give you insights to the games, coaches, players, fans media and everything else that you wouldn’t otherwise have known simply from watching on television. As always, feel free to offer suggestions for feedback in future versions that we can pass along to our correspondents. Here’s Wednesday’s Diary from Dayton…
The First Four, Wednesday – by John Stevens
Throughout the whole first half of the Alabama State vs. Texas-San Antonio game, the lament was frequently heard: “What on EARTH are we going to write about from this game?” UTSA came out and just socked the Hornets right in the collective jaw with easy drives into the paint and a defense that induced several unforced errors out of ASU. The halftime lead for UTSA was 27. And I know it sounds cliche’ to say it, but it’s true in this case — it wasn’t even THAT close. Melvin Johnson had 25 at the half — his CAREER HIGH, and ASU only had 21! — mostly on drives to the hole, silky fade-aways, and free throws. Everyone in the place shook their heads, wondering how they were going to endure watching another half of a spanking of this magnitude. Then, ASU coach Lewis Jackson began switching his defenses, Jeffery Middlebrooks started draining threes, and Chris Duncan started crashing the glass in force. The Roadrunner lead had shrunk to nine points late, but the Hornets could get no closer. Johnson only took four shots in the second half, and added just four points to end with 29. Despite the comeback by ASU, the matter was decided early. Johnson was just too good in that first half, and the Hornets simply took too long to shake off their jitters. That may have included the coaches — at one point in the first half, ASU received a technical foul for having six players on the floor. UTSA deserved the win, but I like the way ASU represented itself in the Dance by not just caving in. When they took the floor for that second half, there wasn’t one kid in an Alabama State uniform who thought that game was over.
My first tweet from UD Arena tonight complimented the Alabama State band. By far, the BEST I’ve ever seen and heard. Not only are the song choices original, but that wall of brass that comes from their section just makes you want to cry, and the young fellow on the drum kit will definitely put your subwoofer to the test. From the moment they played their first note, they had the whole arena in their pocket. I was simply one of a legion of listeners in the place who felt that way tonight.
People were tweeting, texting, and talking during the USC vs. VCU game about how they thought it was hard to watch, it was reminiscent of Wisconsin/Penn State from the Big Ten Tournament last week (I was at that game, and it was worse), and they couldn’t stand it. I would agree…but only for the first half. In the second, we saw guys try to take control and lift their squads, and I can always appreciate that. Jio Fontan (14/2 asst) got more aggressive in attacking the hole. Jamie Skeen (16/9) put his team on his back for several stretches, hitting mid-range jumpers and threes in succession, and Nikola Vucevic (11/13), frustrated on offense on this night, concentrated his efforts on defense and the glass. The chess match between coaches also got interesting, as Shaka Smart switched to a zone defense (on which more in a moment) and just flummoxed the Trojans, helping the Rams to distance themselves from USC late in the second half. It was almost as if the Trojans didn’t know what had hit them until it was too late.