October is finally here! That means the squeaking of sneakers on the college basketball hardwood is right around the corner. You can sense it in the silent roar of anticipation coming from college campuses in Bloomington, Omaha, Lexington, Westwood, Memphis, Tucson, Richmond, Lawrence, Louisville and the rest — take a look at their fan message boards and blogs and feel the palpable collective sense of another season of possibility and wonder. Read the local beat writers and note that even their tried-and-true cynicism with the whole production is relatively muted. Peruse a few schedules and start figuring out where you’re headed this season. With the turning of the calendar into the last quarter of the year , it’s time we stop referring to this season as next season. For those of us who live this sport year-round, next season is now.
Kansas head coach Bill Self is widely recognized as one of the best tacticians and recruiters in the game right now, and with good reason. His Jayhawks have made the Big 12 their own personal punching bag on the way to eight straight conference titles, and the talent that Self regularly brings to Lawrence has kept the longstanding KU-to-NBA pipeline intact. Over the weekend, Kansas rewarded Self for his continuing excellence, extending the coach’s contract four more years (through the 2021-22 season) and increasing his average salary to $3.856 million per year. A number of retention and other performance incentives make the value of the entire contract just north of $53 million over the next decade. It’s phenomenal money, of course, but according to KUSports.com, Self’s new deal is still only the fourth richest in college basketball — behind larger-than-life icons John Calipari, Rick Pitino, and Mike Krzyzewski.
Speaking of Pitino, his Louisville Cardinals will be in everyone’s preseason top five this season, and one of the reasons for that is the amount of quality depth he’ll have at his disposal. That depth took a minor hit on Friday when senior Mike Marrare-injured the same left ACL that had kept him off the court for most of last season. With the increase in Louisville’s overall talent over the course of his career, Marra wasn’t expected to play a major role in the Cardinal lineup this season, but he had contributed in the past (21 MPG in 2010-11, for example) and he was someone who always brought great energy to the floor. He’ll become a graduate assistant under Pitino this season as he prepares to pursue coaching after he leaves school.
Matt Glover is another in a long line of summer transfers who hoped to receive a waiver from the NCAA so that he could play immediately after transferring from Penn State to San Francisco during the offseason. The junior college guard arrived at PSU just in time for last fall’s whirlwind surrounding Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, suffering through a miserable year on campus playing for a different coach (Pat Chambers) than the one who had recruited him (Ed DeChellis). His mother suffered a heart attack in April, but apparently because Glover was already considering a transfer closer to her Los Angeles home at the time, the NCAA denied Glover’s request to play for USF this season. Glover’s family has dealt with a number of health issues over the years, so it’s certainly a shame that the NCAA wasn’t willing to budge on this one.
Finally, Rutgers head coach Mike Rice may have raised the bar considerably in terms of what future coaches will do for their charitable organizations. Forget the tennis shoes, telethons, and all the other fund-raising strategies — Rice is more of a doer than a talker. On Friday morning in the middle of a rainstorm in Jersey City, the 43-year old daredevil rappelled down the side of a 470-foot office building with nothing but a few ropes and cords holding him aloft. His trek downward took nine minutes, a slow time in large part because he stoped at every floor to wave at people on the inside of the building. He did this as part of the American Cancer Society’s “Over the Edge” fundraising effort, and he ended up with a fantastic recruiting yarn that he can regale to players the world over: “Your coach is crazy enough to scale tall buildings for you,” he can now truthfully say.
If the NIT is any indication of how the Big Ten will fare in today’s NCAA Tournament games, then I think the conference will be happy. Minnesota traveled to Philadelphia to take on LaSalle, and came away with a 70-61 win. While Tubby Smith’s crew didn’t have the season some wanted in Gopher-land, they have been playing better over the past couple weeks, and last night they showed off those improvements. One of the main reasons is the play of star forward Rodney Williams, who took control with 17 of his 21 points coming in the second half, including a monstrous dunk that showed off his athleticism.
There is plenty to worry about when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Travel, preparation, an unfamiliar opponent, and… altitude??? That’s exactly what Wisconsin has to deal with, as its game in Albuquerque is about 4,500 feet higher above sea level than Madison. The Badgers arrived Tuesday, and have been working on getting adjusted so that it doesn’t become a factor in its game against Montana. At this point, it’s not a matter of the team not being in shape; it’s being able to catch your breath in the heat of battle when the air is a little thinner.
When you start four sophomores, many would say that your team lacks experience. But when all four of those sophomores suffered an early exit last year in the NCAA Tournament, they have enough experience to know that they don’t want to go through something like that again. Such is the case at Ohio State, who outside of William Buford, has four sophomores who watched Kentucky’s Brandon Knight hit a jumper with five seconds left last year to knock the Buckeyes out of the Tournament. It is a memory that guys like Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craftdon’t want to repeat.
It’s the time of year when changes are made in both the coaching ranks and in player personnel, and Penn State is suffering some attrition as sophomore guard Matt Glover has decided to transfer. Originally from California, the defensive stopper will move on to other opportunities for his basketball future.
As Illinois moves on to find a replacement for Bruce Weber, the program still needs someone to lead it, and that someone is Jerrance Howard. The Illini assistant is currently the interim coach until a new one is named, and it’s his job to keep things in order until athletic director Mike Thomas makes a new hire. Whether that decision is made in a week or in a month, Howard will keep plugging along, doing his best to keep things running smoothly in Champaign.