Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
Florida International has never made any meaningful noise on the basketball court (one NCAA Tournament appearance in school history), yet the Golden Panthers continue to create plenty of buzz off of it. Over the weekend it was announced that Richard Pitino, the 29-year-old son of famed Louisville coach Rick Pitino, would be taking over as head coach at FIU. Richard Pitino was a Louisville assistant and replaces the recently fired Isiah Thomas, who of course is one of the NBA’s all-time great players as well as a former head coach and executive at the highest level in the NBA. Thomas’ buzzworthy hire did not equate to any success in three years with the program (26-65 record) so FIU will now give it a second shot with another big name. Pitino immediately becomes one of the youngest head coaches in Division I, taking up after his legendary father who got his start at Boston University at just 26 years old. Richard is just one of many Pitino assistants that have moved on to become head coaches, as we take a look at how widespread and successful the Rick Pitino coaching tree has become over the years.
Richard Pitino (Left) Looks to Continue Blossoming His Father's Enormous Coaching Tree (USA Today)
We start all the way back in 1985 with Pitino’s head coaching gig at Providence, the first of three schools he would eventually take to a Final Four. The 1987 Friars that advanced to the Final Four included three young assistants by the names of Stu Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and Herb Sendek. Jackson went on to become a head coach at Wisconsin and later for the New York Knicks, and he is now the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the NBA, one of the highest executive positions in the sport. Van Gundy, of course, also went on to become an NBA guy, coaching both the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. Sendek, meanwhile, has become a longtime college coach with NC State and Arizona State, where he remains today. Sendek himself has helped groom some tremendous head coaches like Thad Matta, John Groce, Chris Mack, and Sean Miller. In addition to all of the coaches that sprung from the Providence years, Pitino also coached Billy Donovan, the starting point guard for the Friars at the time. Donovan has since gone on to win two National Championships for Florida with assistants-turned-coaches Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart, among others. Pitino’s three years at Providence produced an extensive history of coaching talent, and we are just getting started.
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League. The PL is among the first of this season’s conference tournaments to tip, with action set to start tonight.You can find him on Twitter@KLDoyle11.
The Favorite: Despite losing back-to-back games against Lehigh and Holy Cross down the stretch, and a less than stellar performance against bottom-dweller Navy, Bucknell remains the favorite to win the Patriot League. The Patriot League Tournament—like many of the smaller conference tournaments around the country—has its championship game located at the highest remaining seed. Playing in the friendly confines of Sojka Pavilion has treated the Bison quite well over the past two seasons as they are a combined 26-3 there. The last road team to win the PLT was, ironically enough, Bucknell back in the 2004-05 season in Worcester against Holy Cross. Home court does have its perks, and Bucknell can rest easy knowing that if they take care of business all three tournament games will be played in Lewisburg. Semantics and seeding aside though, it also doesn’t hurt that Bucknell has far and away the league’s best big man in Mike Muscala. Steady guard Cameron Ayers, sharpshooter Bryson Johnson, and a lunch pail kind of player in Joe Willman make the Bison a formidable group. More on the Muscala—or, as the Bison faithful like to call him, “Moose”—later.
Dark Horse: Back in early February, the Holy Cross Crusaders looked as if they had mailed it in. Poor efforts on the defensive end, not playing as a cohesive unit, and questionable game preparation all contributed, among other things, to a 3-5 start in league play. After being on the wrong end of a 75-51 drubbing at Lehigh, something clearly happened inside the Holy Cross locker room and during practice sessions; the Crusaders’ six game winning streak, their longest since the beginning of the 2007-08 season, did not happen by chance. While the offense is still inconsistent and stalls during inopportune times, the defense has spearheaded the late charge. During the first eight games of league play, Holy Cross gave up an average of 69 points per game. Since then, they are giving up a remarkable 54.7 points. All that being said, the Crusaders have greatly struggled on the road (4-11) and the road to the Patriot League Championship in all likelihood runs through either Bucknell or Lehigh. A tall task for the Crusaders no doubt, but they are peaking at the right time.
Who’s Hot: Hide the women and children, C.J. McCollum is playing his best basketball of the season and the vaunted Lehigh offense is clicking on all cylinders as the Mountain Hawks enter the tournament. Over the course of their last 10 games—nine of them wins—McCollum is averaging 23.4 points. His lowest output during this run was 15 points against Bucknell, but his final three points of this contest came just before the buzzer as he connected on a triple from the top of the key to propel Lehigh to a comeback victory.
Some may call McCollum cocky and arrogant—especially in the preceding clip as he stares down the Bucknell student section—but his play certainly backs it up.
Player to Watch: All eyes will be on C.J. McCollum, but it behooves you to overlook the Patriot League’s best forward in several year: Mike Muscala. The junior from Minnesota is one of the most efficient players on the offensive end you will see this year as he shoots better than 50% from the field and close to 90% from the charity stripe—not too shabby for a 6’11 guy. On the defensive end, Muscala is on the verge of cracking the Top 10 in the Patriot League for blocks all time. What goes unnoticed is how intelligent he is on the floor with his exceptional positioning and court awareness. Muscala has not fouled out of a game this season, and has only picked up four fouls once. Staying out of foul trouble has enabled him to earn 30 minutes a night and really increased his production. While much of the talk from the media and those outside of Patriot League circles will be of McCollum, don’t forget the “Moose” at Bucknell.
Game to Watch: Lafayette @ Holy Cross—After having their season ended by Lafayette the past two years, Holy Cross will look to return the favor this time around. In the regular season, the teams split the season series with each team winning on the opponent’s home floor. The last time the teams met in Worcester, Holy Cross jumped out to a 24-14 halftime lead only to be outscored by 21 points in the second half. Lafayette will be at a major disadvantage in the third meeting though as Second-Team All-League performer Tony Johnson is out for the rest of the year with an ankle injury.
How’d They Fare: Bucknell was trounced by eventual National Champions Connecticut 81-52. It may be hard to believe, but this score doesn’t reflect how lopsided the game actually was. Bucknell looked to push the tempo and played exclusively man-to-man throughout the game, but simply did not have the horses that Connecticut had. Sometimes, the brains can outplay the talent, but very rarely are they able to outrun them.
A Look Back
How’d I Do? – Prior to the season beginning, here is how I saw things shaking out (preseason on the left, final standings on the right):
Bucknell (11-3) 1. Bucknell (12-2)
Lehigh (9-5) 2. Lehigh (11-3)
Holy Cross (7-7) 3. American (10-4)
Colgate (7-7) 4. Holy Cross (9-5)
American (6-8) 5. Lafayette (7-7)
Navy (6-8) 6. Army (5-9)
Lafayette (6-8) 7. Colgate (2-12)
Army (4-10) 8. Navy (0-14)
I was right on the mark in predicting that Bucknell and Lehigh would finish one/two, and that Holy Cross would finish in the top four, but believed in Colgate and Navy more than I should have and undersold American. (Just as an aside, Jeff Jones has never finished in the bottom four of the Patriot League and American has advanced to the semifinals in every year they have been in the league. Clearly, I have learned to no longer bet against coach Jones.)
As for Colgate, the Raiders performed up to many expectations in the non-conference, but struggled in the Patriot League against all teams not named Navy. Given that the Raiders are a senior laden team who finished last season going 6-8 down the stretch, I believed Matt Langel would have that moderate success carry over—it did not. Although, it should be known that their star forward Yaw Gyawu has been hindered by injuries for much of the year—Gyawu was pegged as a member of my All-League Team in the preseason.
All-League Team(statistics from conference games only)
G Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette (7.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 50.0 3PT%)
G Maxwell Lenox, Army (7.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.4 SPG)
F Worth Smith, Navy (6.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG)
F Dan Trist, Lafayette (6.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG)
Player of the Year: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh—This has been a two player race for much of the season, even though American fans would like to think that Charles Hinkle was in the discussion, but, in the end, the Player of the Year debate was going to come between C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala. Arguments can easily be made for both players. Each is the focal point of their team and have experienced a good deal of success as individual players. However, it was McCollum’s dominance and ability to take over a game makes him the Player of the Year. Not a shot against Muscala at all, but it is easier for a 6’3 guard to take over a basketball game than a 6’11 forward. McCollum ranks sixth nationally in points per game at 21.7, but is more than just a scorer—the rest of his stat line reflects that. By many accounts, he has become more of a complete player, but certainly understands when he needs to carry Lehigh.
Coach of the Year: Jeff Jones, American—Losing virtually his entire frontcourt with Vlad Moldoveanu graduating and Stephen Lumpkins pursuing a career in baseball, Jeff Jones’ outlook for the year was bleak. Relying on transfers who had only been with the program for a year and two forwards who seldom saw the floor a year before, Jones had his work cut out for him. Fortunately for him, Charles Hinkle—one of the transfers from Vanderbilt—emerged early in the season as a reliable scorer, and sophomore Tony Wroblicky proved to be a serviceable big man. Even still, Jones turned a team that seemed destined for the middle-of-the-pack into a title contender.
Rookie of the Year: Seth Hinrichs, Lafayette—The 6’7 guard from Minnesota is a pure shooter in every sense of the word, and fits perfectly into Fran O’Hanlon’s jump shot friendly offense. Although Hinrichs has the height that would suggest he is a forward in the Patriot League, he lacks the bulk and size to work in the paint, and with a shot like his it would be foolish to put him down there. Hinrichs shot an impressive 50% from three, 54.8% from the field, and averaged 7.4 points all in Patriot League play. With Ryan Willen and Jim Mower graduating, Hinrichs will become a primary option next year for Lafayette.
Defensive Player of the Year: Bryan Cohen, Bucknell—Rather than bore you with analysis on Cohen’s ability to shut down an opponent’s top scoring threat, I’ll let the following numbers do the talking:
Lehigh, American, and Holy Cross were three of the top four teams in the Patriot League. Against these teams, Cohen has done a remarkable job limiting the scoring production of C.J. McCollum, Charles Hinkle, and Devin Brown.
Average points against all PL teams other than Bucknell
Average points scored against Bucknell
One can attribute the disparity in scoring to a poor shooting night, but such a pattern suggests that Cohen is a significant part of the lower scoring output. Dave Paulsen has a real luxury in matching him up with the opposition’s top scorer and knowing life will be made very difficult for him. Cohen was recently tabbed as the Patriot League’s Defensive Player of the Year; this is the third time he has received the honor. I’d like to see any other player garner such an award three times in their career—quite the feat.
6th Man of the Year: Mike Cavataio, Holy Cross—It has been quite the journey for Holy Cross senior swingman Mike Cavataio, just take a gander at his lengthy college basketball timeline:
2007-08: Played under Norm Roberts at St. John’s where he saw six minutes of action per game and made one start during Big East play against Marquette
2008-09: Transferred to Holy Cross to play under Ralph Willard, but had to sit out the entire season
2009-10: In his first season of eligibility, he played under first year coach Sean Kearney and averaged 11.3 points in 31 games
2010-11: After Sean Kearney was fired after one year, he played under Milan Brown and averaged 8.9 points in 29 games
2011-12: He was injured in the first game of the season against the College of Charleston and missed every game in the non-conference. He returned January 7th against Lehigh
Suffice it to say, this is not how Mike Cavataio drew up his college basketball career. Coming out of St. Francis Prep in New York, Cavataio had aspirations of lighting up Madison Square Garden playing for St. John’s. He soon realized that he could earn more minutes and play a significant role at a smaller school, and Holy Cross seemed like the perfect fit—a successful mid-major program under the tutelage of Ralph Willard. After sitting out a year, experiencing five different coaches between high school and college ball, and suffering through an injury—something he is accustomed to after breaking the same ankle twice during his sophomore year in high school—Cavataio has developed into the prototypical sixth man. He provides an instant spark off the bench with his defense—the Crusaders best on-ball defender—and mid-range and slashing ability on offense. Although he averages a mere 5.4 points, many of his contributions do not show up in the box score, something that his teammates and keen observes would tell you.
Most Improved Player: Charles Hinkle, American—Whatever Charles Hinkle did during the summer months and offseason, it worked. After averaging 11.6 points last year, many assumed that Troy Brewer would have to carry the load this season. And Brewer has been no slouch averaging 12 points a night, but the emergence of Hinkle as the go-to guy has alleviated the pressure Brewer and others may have felt. In his first three seasons, Hinkle rarely shot from behind the arc, and when he did he shot just 25%. This year, he is almost 20 percentage points better at 43.4%. His scoring average by year: 2.0, 1.4, 4.4, 18.8. A 14.4 point increase from his junior to senior season—unheard of. Jones told the Washington Post earlier this month: “We knew he was a good player, we knew he could help us. How much and in what role, that was up in the air. He was playing a role of working hard, good defense, as opposed to what he does best: shooting the ball in the basket.” I’d say that Hinkle has found is role just fine for Jeff Jones.
Game of the Year: Lehigh 56 Bucknell 53 (February 16th at Sojka Pavilion)—It was far from the prettiest game: more turnovers than assists, a combined 9-39 shooting from behind the arc, both teams shooting below 37%, and neither team cracking the 60 point mark, but the Lehigh-Bucknell tilt in Lewisburg was a dandy. In what may be a prelude to the championship game, a C.J. McCollum three pointer—this shot alone may have earned him the Patriot League Player of the Year award—won the game for Lehigh and ended Bucknell’s Patriot League winning streak at an impressive 20 games.
The 2010-11 season just concluded — we are just as sad as you guys are — but rather than get all nostalgic, teary-eyed, and lament the next seven months without college basketball, let’s look towards the future. That’s right, folks, hot off the presses: the first 2011-12 Top 25. Our assumptions on who is staying/leaving are within the team breakdowns.
North Carolina—The Heels have a whole lot coming back and lose next to nothing. Harrison Barnes looked like the stud he was advertised in the preseason as he developed into Carolina’s top player down the stretch, and Kendall Marshall flourished at the point guard position once he was given the keys to the car. It sure doesn’t hurt that a couple McDonald’s All-Americans will be joining the program next year, either. Look for Roy Williams to be significantly happier next season than he was for much of this season.
Roy Williams should be in a good mood next season
Syracuse—Jim Boeheim’s squad returns virtually all the pieces to the puzzle — a puzzle that certainly went unfinished this year — and the Orange look like they may be the top dog in the Big East next season. Scoop Jardine has the ability to be one of the top guards in the BE and Kris Joseph is a very explosive scorer, who should continue to develop in the offseason. The development of Fab Melo is an absolute must in the offseason, though, if this team wants to reach its potential.
Kentucky—With the instability of the NBA next year, the Wildcats may be fortunate enough to hang onto their young stars for at least another season. Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones are all NBA talents and all three of them could enter the NBA Draft, but if even one of them returns, this team will be very dangerous, particularly with the class that John Calipari is bringing in, which might be one of the best assembled in the past ten years. If two of those three return to play with that class, this team immediately becomes the favorite to cut down the nets next April.
Ohio State—Will he stay or will he go? Obviously, we are referring to Jared Sullinger’s decision to remain a Buckeye for another year. While graduation will claim Jon Diebler and David Lighty, there is still ample talent returning to help the Buckeyes take care of some unfinished business. William Buford could be the X-factor that determines just how good the Buckeyes will be.
Louisville—The coaching prowess of Rick Pitino and his most important assistant Ralph Willard was a thing of beauty this year. Not much was expected out of the Cardinals, but the ‘Ville had an exceptional season up until their Tournament collapse to Morehead State. Loftier goals will be set for Louisville next year with Preston Knowles the only player departing. The Cardinals might not have quite as publicized a recruiting class as their in-state rivals, but still have one of the top incoming classes in America. Read the rest of this entry »
Kevin Doyle is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League.
A Look Back
Bucknell’s Winning Streak Snapped—In easily the biggest surprise in the Patriot League over the past two weeks, Bucknell entered Christl Arena and had no answer for Army’s offensive attack. The Black Knights put together their best effort of the season in a 20-point dismantling of first-place Bucknell. Entering the game, the Bison had a nine game winning streak that was the fifth-longest in the nation.
Shazier, Johnson, and McCollum in the National Rankings—Speaking of Bucknell, two of their best offensive weapons rank high in statistical rankings. Darryl Shazier has a 3.5:1 assist to turnover ratio which is ninth best in the nation, and sharpshooter Bryson Johnson is connecting on 47% of his three point attempts which ranks him just inside of the top 50. What may be even more impressive than the preceding statistics, however, is Lehigh sophomore C.J. McCollum’s ability to score the basketball. McCollum is averaging 22.1 points a game which is the highest total for any sophomore in the country.
The Service Academies—Not a whole lot was expected from Army and Navy at the beginning of the season. In the preseason poll, Army was picked to finish eighth and Navy not that much better at sixth. Although each team is not taking the league by storm and entirely proving these prognostications wrong, they did knock off the league’s two top teams in easy fashion. Army defeated Bucknell 90-70 and Navy beat American 73-52. This just goes to show that no team in this league has so much more talent than another that they are immune from suffering bad losses. Impressive, to say the least.
Five-Way Tie for Third Place—After the first go-round to begin league play, there are five teams that have matching 3-4 records. Bucknell and American have separated themselves from the pack—although are clearly susceptible to losses on off nights—but Lehigh, Lafayette, Navy, Army, and HolyCross are in a cluster directly behind them.
Yaw Gyawu Reaches 1,000—The junior forward from Colgate joined Jared Mintz as another Patriot Leaguer to net his 1,000th point this season. In the process, Gyawu also recorded his ninth straight double-double.
J.J. Avila One of Only Two—Through the completion of games on February 1, the Navy freshman is one of only two freshman in the nation to average at least ten points, five rebounds, and two assists with the other player being Langston Galloway from St. Joseph’s. For the season, Avila is averaging 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists.
Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology—Bucknell predictably fell in Joe Lunardi’’s latest bracket after their loss to Army. They moved from a 14-seed playing BYU to a 15-seed in the East Region taking on the University of Connecticut. Wonder who Dave Paulsen would rather prepare for: Jimmer Fredette or Kemba Walker?
Mid-Major Top 25—Bucknell is currently #33 in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 as they garnered 17 votes in the January 31 poll. The only other Patriot League team that can be found in the poll is American, who received just four votes. I still believe Bucknell is slightly underrated by the pollsters, but I suppose that their recent loss to Army justifies the Bison’s position.
Team of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): Navy: Ever since I began to give a “Team of the Weeks” back in the December 10 edition of Checking in on the Patriot League, Bucknell has been awarded the honor every time. Truth be told, they were far and away the best team over the course of those two weeks in every edition as they compiled an impressive record of 11-2 during this stretch. Although Bucknell went 2-1 over the past two weeks, the Navy Midshipmen were hands down the best team in the PL. Beginning 0-4, Navy was reeling, but a victory over rival Army jumpstarted them. They followed this win up with a shocking upset over American, and then made the trek up to Hamilton, NY where they defeated Colgate in double overtime. We shall see if their markedly improved play carries over to February 5, when they travel to Bucknell.
Player of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: I am not sure what is more impressive, the point total McCollum amassed over three games or his rebounding average. The sophomore from Canton, Ohio led Lehigh to two critical victories that brought the Mountain Hawks back into the Patriot League race. He averaged 25.3 points in three games, but corralled 13 rebounds a game as well. Mind you, McCollum is not a center or forward—he would not even be considered to be a “big” player by many—but the 6’3 guard simply has a knack for finding the ball. Constantly around the rim drawing contact, McCollum has a propensity to get to the free throw line too. He was 28-29 from the stripe in the three games, and for the year roughly 30% of his points have come via free throws. The Patriot League has some supremely talented players in the league this season—VladMoldoveanu, Jordan Sugars, Julian Simmons, and Mike Muscala to name a few—but none of them compare to C.J. McCollum.
Freshman of the Weeks (Jan. 20-Feb. 2): J.J. Avila, Navy—It is becoming routine that J.J. Avila is named the freshman of the weeks. The numbers alone do not express how valuable Avila has been to Navy this year, especially during Patriot League play. In league action only, he is more than doubling the next best freshman’s point total—ironically, that is his teammate Isaiah Roberts—and is the top rebounder, shot blocker, and steals leader. During Navy’s three game win streak, Avila averaged 16.7 points, 5.3 boards, and 2.3 assists. For a big man, he is also impressive from downtown as he went 9-20 from three. The Patriot League, due to his efforts, named Avila their Rookie of the Week for the fifth straight time.
Clip of the Week: A fantastic compilation of the highlights of games through the conclusion of games on January 27. Also included in the highlights is some action of the Patriot League lady hoopsters.
Quote of the Week: Following their loss at Lehigh, Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown spoke with Hoop Time editor Chris Courogen:
“We’ll keep pushing. When we make those winning plays, you’ll know. I won’t be in here ready to break the table. I’ll be smiling.”
Good thing coach Brown, we don’t want any broken tables, either.
Power Rankings (Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Bucknell (1) (15-8, 6-1)
Previous Two Weeks: W Colgate 76-49, W Lehigh 81-68, L Army 90-70
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Navy, 2/9 American, 2/12 @ Holy Cross, 2/16 @ Lafayette
The Bison were poised to sprint through the first round of the Patriot League schedule with an unscathed 7-0 record. They blew out a weak Colgate team—although, it should be known the Raiders have been playing better—and then soundly defeated Lehigh. All that was in between them and their tenth win in a row was perennial basement dweller Army. Clearly, the Black Knights did not get the memo that they were supposed to roll over and allow Bucknell to coast to an easy road win. Instead, it was Army—losers of their last three prior to their date with the Bison—that made Bucknell look like the team that was picked to finish last in the league. It should be known that Darryl Shazier, the engine that makes the Bison run, was under the weather against Army and it showed as he had one of his worst performances of the year. Even with the loss, Bucknell’s exceptional play through the first half of league play cannot be discounted. Sophomore Mike Muscala is averaging an even 20 points and nearly nine rebounds, Shazier is hands down the top point guard in the lead, and Bryson Johnson and G.W. Boon are two of the top three point shooters. What Bucknell found out against Army is that they cannot be so shortsighted to think they will win games on talent alone—a good lesson to learn now, rather than in the conference tournament.
2. American (2) (15-7, 5-2)
Previous Two Weeks: W Holy Cross 60-57, L Navy 72-53, W Lafayette 73-60
Next Two Weeks: 2/6 @ Lehigh, 2/9 @ Bucknell, 2/12 Colgate, 2/16 @ Army
American picked up a crucial early conference road win against Holy Cross as the winner of that game moved into sole possession of second place behind Bucknell. Following the big win in Worcester, the Eagles suffered a major letdown against Navy losing by 19 points; further proof that on any given night any team can win or lose in this league. Although they did manage to go 2-1 over the past two weeks, American’s star player Vlad Moldoveanu struggled by his standards. He averaged a cool 15 points and six rebounds in the three games, and had a real tough time finding the basket as his shooting percentage was just 35.5%—nine percentage points below his season average. Moldoveanu will need to turn his play around in a hurry as the Eagles open their second round of games at Lehigh and Bucknell which is a very important stretch to say the least. Two wins here and American may have the inside track to the conference tournament’s top seed.
3. Lehigh (6) (12-10, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: W Lafayette 79-62, L Bucknell 81-68, W Holy Cross 79-75 (OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/6 American, 2/9 @ Navy, 2/12 @ Army, 2/16 Colgate
The Mountain Hawks got off to a real rocky start with their low point coming in a loss in the final seconds at Colgate, but C.J. McCollum and Co. have begun to slowly right the ship. They began by traveling just miles away to their arch rival Lafayette and soundly defeated the Leopards behind 23 points and 14 rebounds from McCollum. A week later, they found themselves in a 12 point second half hole to Holy Cross, but climbed back into the game and eventually won it in overtime. McCollum came up big all day pouring in 29 points, but it was his teammates that made the integral plays down the stretch to propel Lehigh to the win. MichaelOjo hit two threes—one late in regulation and the other in overtime—JordanHamilton (not to be confused with Rick Barnes’ sophomore) provided a spark off the bench by scoring three points the conventional way to tie the game at 68 towards the end of regulation and then corralled a big offensive rebound and put back to seal the game in overtime, and GabeKnutson had one of his biggest games scoring wise by flushing in 22 points. When it is more than simply C.J. McCollum playing well, Lehigh becomes a dangerous team.
4. Army (4) (11-11, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L Navy 85-81, L Lafayette 83-60, W Bucknell 90-70
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Colgate, 2/9 @ Holy Cross, 2/12 Lehigh, 2/16 American
From a pure wins and losses standpoint, it was not the most successful two weeks as Army went 1-2. In their latest game, however, the Black Knights had easily their best performance in maybe the past few years. Without having any knowledge of the performances of both teams to date, one would have thought Army was the 6-0 team and the class of the Patriot League. That is just how well the Black Knights played. Here are several statistics to back it up: the shot 53% from the field, 46% from three, 84% from the line, had nearly a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, and scored 90 points; entering the game, Bucknell was giving up an average of 61.5 points in the PL. JeremyHence scored 23 points in the win and was one of five Black Knights to score in double figures. The victory over Bucknell is good and all for Army as it moved them into that logjam that is third place, but now they must capitalize on it.
5. Navy (8) (8-15, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: W Army 85-81, W American 72-53, W Colgate 81-78 (2OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Bucknell, 2/9 Lehigh, 2/12 Lafayette, 2/16 @ Holy Cross
As the old basketball adage goes: “When you live by the three, you die by the three,” and this saying has clearly held true for Navy. They got off to a disastrous 0-4 start, but since then have won their last three games. The difference? The three point shot, obviously. In PL play, Navy is hoisting up a ridiculous 25 threes a game, and making an average of nine a game for a very respectable 36%. Here is the kicker though, in losses they are shooting just under 25%, but in victories they are at 38%. This is a dangerous way to live, no doubt about it, but if Jordan Sugars and J.J. Avila continue to have hot hands, Navy will have the ability to win some more games.
6. Holy Cross (3) (4-17, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L American 60-57, L Colgate 79-72, L Lehigh 79-75 (OT)
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Lafayette, 2/9 Army, 2/12 Bucknell, 2/16 Navy
The feelings in Worcester were pretty good after beginning 3-1 in the league—well, as good as one can possibly feel with a 4-14 record—but they have taken a turn for the worse since then. The Crusaders allowed three very winnable games slip through their fingertips and are now 3-4 in the league as opposed to being within striking distance of first place Bucknell. After falling to American in a nip and tuck game that saw StephenLumpkins pour in 22 points as HC had little answer for him on the low blocks, the ‘Saders came out very flat against an inspired Colgate team. When looking back on their past two losses, the games against Colgate and Lehigh were polar opposites. They trailed Colgate at one point by 18 in the second half, but mounted a late comeback to get within four. Against Lehigh, they flew out of the gate taking a 16-8 early lead and had a 12 point lead midway through the second half, but eventually collapsed and allowed Lehigh to push the game to overtime where the Mountain Hawks would win by four. There is no quit in this Holy Cross team and unquestionably not a lack of energy and fervor that is exuded at the top with MilanBrown, but this has yet to translate into consistent wins.
7. Lafayette (5) (8-14, 3-4)
Previous Two Weeks: L Lehigh 79-62, W Army 83-60, L American 73-60
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 Holy Cross, 2/9 @ Colgate, 2/12 @ Navy, 2/16 Bucknell
After jumping out to a 2-1 start in the league, Lafayette has dropped three of four games and finds themselves in that pack of teams in third place. Jared Mintz continues to be the staple that holds everything together for Lafayette, as he is by far their most consistent scorer, but aside from Mintz the Leopards lack another go-to player. JimMower and RyanWillen have the capabilities and mentalities of a scorer, but both have by and large underperformed in the PL. Mower was virtually invisible in two losses for Lafayette scoring just three points in each game, and Willen has scored in double figures just twice in PL action. When Mower and Willen are both playing well on the offensive end, Lafayette may find some success, but in their last three games the two have a combined average of 16 points a night. Far too low, and an integral reason why they are 1-2 during this stretch.
8. Colgate (7) (5-17, 2-5)
Previous Two Weeks: L Bucknell 76-49, W Holy Cross 79-72, L Navy 81-78 (2OT) W Longwood 97-86
Next Two Weeks: 2/5 @ Army, 2/9 Lafayette, 2/12 @ American, 2/16 @ Lehigh
Colgate had a rare non-conference game at this stage of the season—a game that was not affiliated with the BracketBusters—and capped off their fourth game of the past two weeks with an offensive outburst as they defeated Longwood 97-86. In the grand scheme of things, this game had absolutely zero meaning, but what it may do is provide them with some much needed confidence heading into the second round of Patriot League games. It may be hard to believe, but Colgate has made serious strides lately and will no longer be a pushover like they were for the majority of the season. The Raiders have won four of their last six games, and during this stretch they have witnessed the breakout play of SterlingMelville. Prior to the Dartmouth win, the Plano, Texas native was averaging 3.7 points a game, but during this six game stretch he has been putting up nearly ten a night. Against Longwood, MikeVenezia scored a season-high 21 points; it is a great sign to see Venezia progressing from his knee injury. Venezia is a real fixture in the Colgate backcourt, and one of their best scorers when at full strength. Don’t get me wrong, Colgate will still struggle the rest of the way, but this is a squad that has been steadily improving and can surprise some teams—Lehigh and Holy Cross both saw this.
A Look Ahead
Ryan Willen to 1,000?—Lafayette junior forward Ryan Willen currently has 905 career points. Is it possible that Willen reaches 1,000 points this year, or will he have to wait until his senior season rolls around to reach the mark? The Leopards have, at minimum, eight games remaining in their season (seven regular season games, and one game guaranteed in the conference tournament). Assuming Lafayette plays just eight games, Willen would have to average roughly 12 points a game to reach 1,000. For the season, he is averaging 10.5 points, but in conference games he has gone cold averaging just seven.
Who Will Emerge From The Five?—As I previously mentioned, there are five teams who have identical 3-4 league records. In looking ahead to the second half of league play, which team will most likely emerge from the bunch and garner what will most likely be the three seed heading into the tournament? Currently, Navy is the hottest team and is senior laden, but it is hard to see the Midshipmen sustaining their impressive play of late for the balance of the regular season. Holy Cross has been reeling having lost their last three contests, but their great play to begin conference play is encouraging for the Crusader faithful. Army and Lafayette are both very streaky teams; some nights they look to be a top tier team. It is hard for me to pick against Lehigh and C.J. McCollum. Lehigh is one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the league, so if Dr. Brett Reed’s youngsters continue to mature they may be in good shape. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have McCollum bail you out when necessary.
How Will Milan Brown Manage Andrew Keister?—A few years ago, former Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard faced the predicament of how to handle the nagging injuries of two of his top players: Alex Vander Baan and Pat Doherty. Both were sidelined with injuries for part of the season, and Willard periodically rested Vander Baan and Doherty to keep them fresh for certain games. Fast forward to 2011, and Milan Brown faces a similar dilemma. His star forward Andrew Keister has a nagging Achilles, but has been valiantly battling through it. Will Brown limit Keister’s minutes until the conference tournament rolls around, or will he utilize him in a manner that gives HC the best opportunity to win each and every game? I would guess the latter.
Critical Upcoming Games:
Bucknell vs. Navy (Feb. 5)—Is Navy’s three game winning streak a sign of things to come, or will they fall back into the depths of the Patriot League after their date with Bucknell?
Lehigh vs. American (Feb. 6)—The Eagles won round one in D.C., but now Lehigh gets a shot at Vlad and others in Bethlehem.
Bucknell vs. American (Feb. 9)—A game of extreme importance for American if they have any desire of obtaining the number one seed in the tournament. It is hard to see them losing to Bucknell twice, but stilling being ranked one in the tournament.
Holy Cross vs. Bucknell (Feb. 12)—No matter what the records are of these two teams, the game is always an absolute dogfight that always seems to go down to the wire. Mike Muscala hit a baseline jumper with just over a second left to win the first game, but Holy Cross proved they could more than hang with the Bison in the loss.
Mike DeCourcy spoke with Kentucky freshman Enes Kanter’s father recently, finding that Dr. Mehmet Kanter believes that Turkish basketball officials stating that his son took a salary in cash and benefits while playing for club team Fenerbahce is a smear campaign meant to chill future generations of young Turkish players from bolting overseas to play American college basketball instead of remaining at home. He speaks extensively about the importance of his son obtaining an American collegiate education and points to the family turning down multi-million dollar offers in Turkey as evidence of their sincerity, but what was notably absent from Dr. Kanter’s comments was whether his son is looking to play at Kentucky for one year or long enough to get that all-important degree. After all, if we are to believe his assertions about education from the interview, we should expect Enes to stay in Lexington for longer than the next six months, right?
We appreciate teams that will schedule tough non-conference schedules, especially if they’re willing to go on the road to do so. Luke Winn gives us his top ten such schedules, and according to his analysis, John Thompson, III, John Calipari, Rick Barnes, Bruce Pearl and Tom Izzo should be proud of themselves. We’re looking forward to quite a few games on those schedules.
Louisville associate coach director of basketball operations and former WKU/Pitt/Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willardhas a pretty sweet new gig if you can get it. He’ll be paid $375,000 this season in the first year of a three-year deal where he’ll be required to “coach the coaches.” One of the coaches he’ll be coaching is new Louisville assistant Mark Lieberman, a defensive specialist from Miami who will make about one-seventh the salary as Willard with approximately seventy times as much stress.
As of this week, new NCAA head honcho Mark Emmertis on the job in Indianapolis, and several of his initial areas of interest relate to academics and how to ensure student-athletes are getting an education as part of their collegiate experience. We have no problem with that in principle, nor do we have any problem with his supposed interest in coming down hard on the rule-breakers in the sport; but we have written in this space before that trying to work a deal with David Stern to turn the NBA Draft into something akin to the MLB model (where a prep player has the option to go to the NBA out of high school, but then has to stay for three years if he goes to college) is an absolute mistake. Get off this, man — there is nothing good that will come from this.
Here’s another first for Frank Martin’s Kansas State program — the Big 12 coaches yesterday overwhelmingly put the pressure squarely on his team to win the conference title, earning ten of the twelve first-place votes (coaches cannot vote for their own team). Kansas followed up in second with two first-place votes and Texas came in third. It’s interesting to see Colorado come in at ninth — even though head coach Jeff Bzdelik took off for points east, the Buffs still return two of the best players in the conference in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins. The full list is below, and my how Jeff Capel’s program has fallen…
Earlier today, the jury in the Karen Sypher extortion case found her guilty on all six counts with which she was charged by the government. From KSR:
Three counts of extortion,
Two counts of lying to the FBI, and
One count of retaliating against a witness.
By our tally, that can result in up to 26 years in the hoosegow and $1.5 million in fines. The sentence will be handed down within the next two months.
A couple of quick thoughts, here. You may recall that Sypher’s defense team did not bother to call any witnesses as part of their case. This can only mean that her attorneys felt confident enough in the failure of the prosecution to get over that “reasonable doubt” threshold they’re required to achieve. After an across-the-board guilty verdict, though, you certainly have to wonder about the radar and the handicapping abilities of that defense team. Not only will she not be taking them on any trips out to Churchill Downs any time soon, but it’s conceivable that she could accuse them of ineffective assistance of counsel, a form of legal malpractice, and appeal this verdict. This tactic rarely works, however, because even if your defense calls no witnesses at a trial where you’re found guilty, proving your counsel was incompetent is a very hard thing to do. You’d pretty much have to have an attorney like the lawyer who went nuts and stripped naked during the deposition in the movie Michael Clayton to make that stick.
She can appeal, citing counsel's "ineffectiveness," but it's a huge stretch.
Since the whispers started about the NCAA expanding March Madness to 96 teams opinion on the issue has been divided into camps: the traditionalists (bloggers) and the radicals (coaches). Wait a minute. What?!? Yes. That’s right. Bloggers want to stay old school and coaches want to throw a wrench into the established system. . .
While coaches like to pontificate about expanding tournament to let more “deserving” teams in and give more players a chance to play in March Madness it is pretty clear to most neutral observers that the real motive is quite clear–keeping their jobs. With the recent spate of firings the coaches will continue to lobby hard for expansion. Since the season ended just a few days ago the list of coaching unemployed has grown to 6 coaches (and growing. . .):
Ernie Kent, Oregon (235-173 overall, 16-16 this season)
Jeff Lebo, Auburn (96-93, 15-17)
Todd Lickliter, Iowa (38-58, 10-22)
Bobby Lutz, Charlotte (218-158, 19-12)
Bob Nash, Hawaii (34-56, 10-20)
Kirk Speraw, UCF (279-233, 15-17)
Although a NCAA Tournament bid would not have guaranteed that these coaches kept their jobs, it would have most likely kept the boosters off their backs for some more time. And that’s all that a coach wants, right? Another year or two to collect a paycheck doing a substandard job and hoping to reach the longevity bonuses before they decide to get the booster funded golden parachute. Basically think of a college basketball version of investment bankers wanting to tweak the scoring metrics (adjust earnings in that case) to make themselves look better. Everyone knows how that turned out for the financial markets and the entire country.
You may see some familiar faces in the unemployment line
Now you’re probably asking yourself why the big-name coaches would care and that is a perfectly reasonable question with a perfectly reasonable answer. While the Mike Krzyzewskis and Jim Boeheims of the college basketball world will never have to worry about getting fired they have are plenty of their friends who are not quite as successful and that is not even talking about the dying branches on their coaching tree. Let’s take a look at some of their most famous branches:
Krzyzewski: Mike Brey, Tommy Amaker, Quin Snyder, Tim O’Toole, Bob Bender, Chuck Swenson, Mike Dement, and David Henderson
Boeheim: Rick Pitino, Tim Welsh, Louis Orr, Wayne Morgan, and Ralph Willard
Outside of Brey and Pitino that is a pretty mediocre group of coaches. Some of the others have had a modicum of success too, but overall that group has used more than its fair share of U-Haul trucks. And if the coaches don’t get their way they might be following in the footsteps of the late ODB.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and America East Conference.
Patriot League Tournament
In a league in which the first five teams finished within three games of each other any team could win three games in a row to secure the NCAA bid. Lehigh was the best team throughout the year with a 10-4 record. If they face Navy in the semis there could be problems posed after dropping both against the Midshipmen this year. American could also beat Navy and ride the hot hand of Vlad Moldoveanu as far as he will take them. Holy Cross has a lot of skill for a #7 seeded team, but who knows if Coach Kearny can get them to perform. Lafayette faded huge down the stretch, but started out 5-1 in conference. Any of the teams could end up hosting the Patriot League trophy at the end of the tournament, but I will go with Lehigh, the favorite, to win it. Tune in for the league championship on ESPN2 on March 12 at 4:45 pm.
First Round Matchups
#8 (14-14, 4-10) Army at #1 (19-10, 10-4) Lehigh – 03/03/10 Wednesday 7 pm. Lehigh should roll in this game against Army. Every victory Lehigh has had this year has been by double figures including both over Army. The matchup problem comes in the second round. If Navy manages to beat American, Lehigh will not be pleased. Navy beat Lehigh as many times this year as the rest of the league combined.
#7 (8-21, 5-9) Holy Cross at #2 (14-16, 9-5) Bucknell – 03/03/10 Wednesday 7 pm. If Holy Cross can put together some defense this game they stand a good chance. The Crusaders beat Bucknell once at home, but lost in mid-February on the road. It seems that the Crusaders just never bought into Kearny’s system, so it will be hard to start in the playoffs. Especially after dropping four of the last five in the regular season.
#6 (10-18, 6-8) Colgate at #3 (17-12, 8-6) Lafayette – 03/03/10 Wednesday 7 pm. The away team came away with a victory in each of the games this year between these two teams. Colgate’s win over Lafayette was only one of three home losses on the year for the Leopards. It was also only one of three home victories on the road for the Raiders. I can see Lafayette continuing their second half swoon and dropping this first rounder.
#5 (13-16, 7-7) Navy at #4 (10-19, 7-7) American – 03/03/10 Wednesday 7:30 pm. American came out on top of both matchups during the regular season including a 80-77 overtime victory at Navy during the last week in February. Moldoveanu hit the go ahead layup, but a huge game out of Stephen Lumpkins won the Eagles that game. Moldoveanu scored 37 points the first time the two teams met. Navy is only 3-10 on the road this year, so the home court advantage was huge for American. The Eagles come in having won three out of their last four while Navy has dropped three in a row. American, 8-0, has never lost in a first round matchup since joining the league in 2002. Expect the Eagles to continue to live on.
Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC conferences.
JERSEY CITY , NJ – Siena took their unblemished MAAC record into Yanitelli Center on Thursday evening and edged St. Peter’s 66-58 . The Peacocks had been riding a five-game win streak and Siena was without the services of injured senior forward and offensive threat, Edwin Ubiles. In addition, a crowd of 1,609, one of St. Peter’s biggest this season, was animated and provided an intense and exciting atmosphere. Junior forward Ryan Rossiter was huge with a 21 point, 9 rebound night for the Saints. In the final minute Alex Franklin, nine points on the night, muscled his way in the paint for a crucial field goal for the Saints. Siena closed out the final seconds from the charity stripe. “We never gave up the lead (in the stretch) and we got stops when we needed to,” said Siena coach Fran McCaffery. “We came in and prepared for a close game. St.Peter’s is too good a team. You are not going to blow them out.”
Player of the Week. Alex Franklin (F), Siena – Franklin averaged 24.5 PPG, 9 RPG and 2 BPG during the week. He scored a season high for Siena with a 27-point outing in the win over Manhattan.
Rookie of the Week. Rashard McGill (G), Iona – Hit for 9 PPG while averaging 5.5 RPG as the Gaels went 2-0 for the week. McGill scored a career-best 13 points and added 7 rebounds in the Iona win at Manhattan.
Jeron Belin became the 29th player in St.Peter’s history to hit the 1000 point mark.
Ronald Moore of Siena inched closer to the all time and season record for assists. Moore is also targeting the all time MAAC assist total.
With 15 wins, Iona coach Ralph Willard’s Iona club already eclipsed the win total of the past two seasons.
Standings and tempo free breakdowns (courtesy of Basketball State). Only MAAC games are computed. Efficiency margin is the difference between offensive and defensive efficiency. Like a checking account, positive is good, negative not so good.
Canisius – Split with New Jersey based schools, defeating Rider before dropping a decision to St. Peter’s. Progress! The Griff win over Rider was number ten of the season and fifth in the MAAC. Last season Canisius put the uniforms away with ten wins overall and just four in conference. The Canisius win over Rider saw the Griffs commit only seven turnovers and shoot 88 % from the charity stripe. Senior guard Frank Turner continued his torrid play averaging 19.5 PPG for the week.
Fairfield – Split the last two games, defeating Marist and losing at Iona. Anthony Johnson had a double-double week with 16.3 PPG and 11 RPG . The Stag center has eight double-doubles on the season. Derek Needham continues his outstanding play at the point. A freshman, Needham is set to crack the school’s top ten single-season list in assists. Fairfield held Marist to 50 points, the eighth time they have held an opponent under 60 points this season.
Iona – Extended the win streak to six with victories at Manhattan and at home against Fairfield. Jermel Jenkins preserved the win at Manhattan with a late steal then matched his career high with 14 points and 7 assists against the Stags. Gael reserves outscored Fairfield’s bench 50-5 in the 68-58 decision. Iona’s 15 wins and .715 winning percentage is the highest among the fourteen Division I programs within a 30-mile radius of Madison Square Garden.
Loyola(MD) – Finished a stretch of three road games in seven days with a win at Marist. That was just after taking Siena to the wire in a six-point decision. Loyola had a seven-point lead before the Saints closed out with a 17-4 run. Loyola did not score a field goal the last eight minutes in that contest. Senior Garrett Kelly was a surprise against the Saints . He entered the game with eight career points and no treys. Kelly scored 11 points and canned three beyond the arc. Against Marist the Greyhounds shot 58.6 % the first half and never looked back.
Manhattan – The Jaspers close out January on the road. Manhattan has lost six of seven conference games in January but the first four by a combined total of 12 points. Guard Rico Pickett averaged 22 PPG for the week. Pickett hit 50% (8 of 16) from three and pulled down 4.7 rebounds per game. The rebounding leader is a guard — Darryl Crawford with 6.1 RPG. Crawford is also scoring 14.7 points per game. The Jaspers are the MAAC leaders, committing only 11 turnovers per game (a conference best 14.5 TO Rate).
Marist – Dropped games to Fairfield and Loyola. Junior forward Corey Bauer set the pace with a 16 PPG and 7.5 RPG week. Bauer hit for 21 against Loyola which tied the high scoring game for a Marist player this season. Sam Prescott, Marist’s freshman guard, also had 21. Ironically Prescott’s performance was against Loyola on January 15th in Baltimore.
Niagara – Dropped home games to St. Peter’s and Rider. Tyrone Lewis was out both games with an injury. Sophomore Austin Conley got the starting nod in Lewis’ absence. Conley had a career-high 13 points against Rider. Demetrius Williamson paced the Purple Eagles with a 20 PPG scoring mark over the two games. The loss to Rider left Niagara at 11-11. The last time they were 11-11 in late January was 2007 when they went on a 12-game winning streak that included a MAAC title and a first round NCAA Tournament victory.
Rider – Lost at Canisius where they had won six of the last eight and won at Niagara where they hadn’t in eight years. At Niagara, the Broncs erased an 11-point deficit and won on Novar Gadson’s tip-in. Gadson finished with 11 points and 11 boards. Rider has played 15 of its first 22 away from home. They return to Alumni Gym to play six of their final nine regular season games. Junior Justin Robinson canned five three-pointers at Canisius. Robinson has hit 15 consecutive free throws. Earlier this year he hit 26 straight from the charity stripe.
St. Peter’s – Swept Canisius and Niagara on the road to improve to 13-7, their best record after twenty games in eight years. Balance is a key. Nick Leon and Wesley Jenkins are factors outside while Ryan Bacon mans the paint. Against Canisius however, the leading scorer was junior forward Jeron Belin with 16 points. Bacon tied a career high with 16 rebounds against Niagara. Leon had 19 in the game, 18 of which came in the second half.
Siena – Entered the week on an eleven-game win streak, the second longest in program history and third longest current win streak in the country. Siena has a 32-game home winning streak and dominates virtually every statistical category in the MAAC. The only negative point to date is the medical report. Kyle Downey broke his foot on January 19th in practice and is out indefinitely. Edwin Ubiles missed several games with soreness in his back and shoulder and freshman guard Jonathan Breeden missed several contests with a migraine headache. Point guard Ronald Moore continues to excel with a gaudy 8.1 APG mark, the nation’s best.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Patriot League and America East Conference. Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials..
Predicted Order of Finish:
Holy Cross (11-3)
Marquis Hall (G), Sr., Lehigh
R.J Evans (G), Soph., Holy Cross
Andrew Keister (F), Jr., Holy Cross
Zahir Carrington (F), Sr., Lehigh
Patrick Behan (F/C), Jr., Bucknell
6th Man. Chris Harris (G), Sr., Navy
Impact Newcomer. Jeff Holton (F), Fr., American
What You Need to Know. American’s dominance it seems will come to an end this year after back-to-back Patriot League championships. The “American” have seven freshman on the 2009-10 team, and the current team has zero combined starts between them, so they will experience a steep learning curve. With the most well known coach in the PL gone (Ralph Willard at Holy Cross), we will have to see if Sean Kearney can carry the torch with a squad full of talented returning players in Worcester. With his experience coaching at this level, I am willing to bet he can, which is why they are my pick for the conference champions. As a whole, the entire league returns more talent this year than any year in recent memory.
As we mentioned in our earlier “Buzz” post about the topic, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino reportedly admitted to local law enforcement officials that he had consensual sex with Karen Sypher at Porky’sPorcini’s, a local restaurant, on August 1, 2003 (perhaps in this private room) and paid $3,000 for Sypher to have an abortion (more on this later). While the fact that a powerful male figure having sex outside of his marriage isn’t that shocking, the way that this story has come about is surprising nonetheless (not unlike the recent Josh Hamilton photos). The saga, which we first reported to the nation back in April, became a national story when Pitino accused Sypher (the estranged wife of Louisville equipment manager Tim Sypher)of attempting to extort him for cash, cars and college tuition. It simmered for a while as random speculation about an affair (what else could it be?) until Matt Jones over at Kentucky Sports Radio uncovered a photo (below) from Sypher’s indictment day featuring a sign held by one of her sons suggesting Sypher may have had an abortion.
Apparently, the Answer is $3000
Then, a series of strange events at Louisville earlier this summer calls into question the validity of some of Pitino’s motives in the interim. Pitino’s son Richard had been an assistant coach at U of L, and earlier this year he was sent to fill the same position under Billy Donovan at Florida. Now, Pitino has remarked several times over the years that he never considers “lateral” movements in terms of evaluating potential coaching jobs and he encourages his assistants never to do the same with their careers. When Richard Pitino made basically a lateral move from Louisville to Florida around the time that all this Karen Sypher stuff started, you heard a few rumblings, wondering why Pitino’s son wouldn’t be subject to the same advice as Pitino’s other proteges. Then of course there was the strange acceptance of Ralph Willard into the fold; among coaching ranks, Willard has always been known as a guy who has the coaching chops to handle the captaincy of even the most elite programs in the sport, but simply kept his spot at Holy Cross because he enjoyed coaching there. He is more of a contemporary than a protege of Pitino’s, and he’s a longtime member of Rick’s inner circle. The fact that Willard would suddenly make such a strange move was certainly curious, but the matter was dismissed pretty quickly as the Sypher story developed. Then things got relatively quiet until the news that Sypher’s sexual assault charge against Pitino had been dropped. Once those charges were dropped, we expected the story to fade away except on Louisville’s trips to the arenas of their more vocal rivals – can you imagine the taunts that will rain down upon him in Rupp Arena and other tough environs, now?
With what we know now, can we say that these moves were just coincidences? That Richard Pitino simply wanted to get out from under his father’s shadow and stake his own claim? That Ralph Willard wanted less responsibility as a coach, was ready to leave a place he loved, and just wanted the chance to coach with his old friend again? Or were these moves representative of a head coach and a father who was getting a few affairs in order? Was Pitino getting his son Richard out of the media maelstrom he knew was probably coming, asking an old friend and protege in Billy Donovan to take care of his son and let him continue his coaching education in case these personal matters took a bad turn? Was Pitino bringing in a high-quality coach and old friend like Willard to be his lead assistant and possibly take over Pitino’s Cardinal program in case the Sypher situation started to blow up and Pitino needed to leave the spotlight for a while? Knowing what a calculating man that Rick Pitino is, it’s hard — in fact, next to impossible — for me to think that these moves were simply coincidental. No, from our view – Rick Pitino knew this thing was percolating and likely to explode, and he was making sure certain valuables were protected.
Now that we have details to support (?) Sypher’s claims, we have to wonder how this story ever got so big (outside of the obvious salacious details that came out today). Reading Sypher’s account of the incident(s) [both the “confirmed” sex at Porcini’s and the alleged sex at her eventual husband’s apartment] it is pretty clear that her story is a little hole-y.
We'll Be Seeing More of Her (Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)
Why would Sypher marry a man (Tim Sypher) who was present for the rape by Pitino that she claims happened at his apartment?
How and why would she trouble herself to find out that she was pregnant almost 2 weeks after their first encounter (possible, but has the strong scent of Gold Diggerism)?
Was she even pregnant? While the reported dates of all the exams/tests are possible, they border on the edge of being so early that one could reasonably question whether she was actually pregnant.
Given how ridiculous the entire story is one would expect that Pitino should come out of this relatively unscathed (professionally-speaking – we’re sure that Mrs. Pitino, on the other hand, has tightened that leash significantly). One might also expect the release of this information to be enough to kill any potential civil suit that Sypher has, but judging by her reported history in the article we’re guessing this isn’t that last we will hear of her. If this story and the Ben Roethlisberger story have taught guys out there anything (other than ESPN reports what it wants when it wants), it is this: if she looks or acts a little crazy and you’re a celebrity worth millions, just walk away because there are plenty of other women out there who won’t make your life a living hell after one encounter.
Ok, we’re going to put our tin foil hat on here for a few minutes. It’s summer, and nobody is reading this anyway. But we’re really having trouble understanding the news today that Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard (and longtime Pitino buddy) will leave his successful, self-made program in Worcester, Mass. to become an assistant coach at Louisville.
Read that again: assistant coach at Louisville.
To open our conspiracy theory, let’s consider all the reasons that Willard shouldn’t have so much as considered this job, much less taken it.
Willard’s been a head coach for the last 19 years, first at Western Kentucky, then at Pitt, and spending the last decade at Holy Cross.
Holy Cross is Willard’s alma mater (Class of 1967), and he’s turned down other head coaching opportunities at higher profile places to stay there.
Willard is arguably HC’s best coach ever. In ten seasons he’s taken the Crusaders to four NCAA Tournaments as Patriot League champions, won 20+ games five times, and has gone 192-117 (.621) in his career there. It’s safe to say that he could have held on to this job as long as he wanted it.
It wouldn’t be unfathomable to believe that his salary, even at a Patriot League school, was higher than what Louisville can afford to pay its top assistant. At worst, we’d expect the two to be comparable.
So in the spirit of 9/11 was Saddam’sBush’sIsrael’s doing paranoids everywhere, we have to wonder what the hell is going on here?
Then we started thinking… a lot has gone on at Louisville in the past few months. To recap:
After losing to underdog Michigan St. in the E8, stars Earl Clark and Terrence Williams are off to the NBA.
Throw that in with the persistent rumors of a nameless medical condition dogging Pitino, and it wouldn’t be outside a reasonable realm of possibility for us to think that Ralph Willard has been promised something to become Pitino’s insurance policy. What if Pitino’s legal battles, familial problems and/or medical issues require him to take a leave of absence for a bit, similar to what Lute Olson did at Arizona? Wouldn’t it make sense to have a friend he’s known and trusted for 40+ years ready to move in at the helm if necessary? Or what if Pitino is once again feeling his well-documented propensity for wanderlust, and although he wasn’t interested in taking the Kings job this spring, he would be interested in other more high-profile NBA/college jobs should they open up? In that situation, he could essentially pull a Dean Smith/Bill Guthridge and leave the Louisville post to his top guy.
Or this could all be nonsense, chalked up to people sometimes doing irrational things, and we’re completely off base in our analysis. You’ll excuse us as we now go watch the Apollo 11 space landing in Arizona from the comfort of our alien-built spaceship in Area 51 while riffing some fresh beats with 2Pac and Biggie.