This Rutgers/Julie Hermann thing appears to be getting worse before it gets better. A couple bits of news released on Wednesday further impugned the university’s protocols for not properly vetting its new athletic director, and depending on how much more is still locked in the closet of this woman’s past, it could begin to spell the end of her short career there. ESPN.com obtained emails from the 26-member (seriously?) executive search committee at Rutgers that was tasked with interviewing candidates, including Hermann, and has found that the process was expedited to the point that committee members did not have time to “delve deeply into either candidates’ documents” or “ask follow-up questions.” Furthermore, a former Tennessee volleyball player named Erin Zammett Ruddy, who played under Hermann in 1996-97, validated the accusations made by some of her teammates in last weekend’s Newark Star-Ledger piece. As she writes on her personal blog, “After our 96/97 season, the team got together—sans coaches—to figure out why we were all so miserable and why we felt so much animosity toward one another. We quickly realized Julie [Hermann] was the common denominator.” She goes on to say that events from 16 years ago do not necessarily reflect the talents of Hermann as an administrator, but we’re starting to get the feeling that those feeling the most fire from this storm on high in New Jersey will not come to the same conclusion.
On to better news, as the positive effects from Jason Collins’ coming out are starting to take hold with college basketball the first beneficiary. Outsports reported Tuesday that an NAIA player by the name of Jallen Messersmith at Benedictine College (KS) had also come out to his coaches and teammates last fall, and is believed to be the first openly gay men’s college basketball player in US history. A rising junior, Messersmith is a 6’8″ forward who averaged 4.9 PPG and 3.6 RPG last season but was ranked in the top five nationally in blocks per game (1.9 BPG). There are many more firsts to achieve in this particular civil rights movement, but the more exposure to gay people that folks like Messersmith can bring to places like Atchison, Kansas, the better. As he put it so well: “I’m just one of the guys, who happens to like guys.”
In a strange coincidence, there was actually quite a bit of conference tournament news released on Wednesday. First, if the SEC is indeed interested in moving its postseason tournament to a “primary” site in the future, Nashville has spoken up and is more than ready to take on the responsibility. The Music City already has the 2015, 2016 and 2019 tournaments locked up, but the CEO of the Nashville Sports Council believes that his city is well-suited for the event. Meanwhile, in the mid-major world of conference tournaments, the MAAC announced on Wednesday that it is moving its postseason event back to Albany, New York, from Springfield, Massachusetts, beginning in 2015 and lasting through 2017. The event enjoyed its best attendance year in 2010 at Albany’s Times-Union Center, where the total gate of 53,569 was nearly four times the average attendance in Springfield the last two years. Staying in the Northeast, the Patriot League also announced that with the additions of Boston University and Loyola (MD) to the conference, the postseason tournament would also be expanding to include all 10 teams in its membership.
Today’s exercise in silliness comes from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in yet another exhibit of eggheadedness getting the best of reasonableness. A group called Emory Sports Marketing Analytics decided to come up with a statistical model to rank order the “best fan bases” in college basketball by comparing team revenues with expectations of team performance. Louisville came out on top, with Arizona, Duke, Arkansas (?) and North Carolina following in the top five. Kentucky came in at #7, while Kansas, UCLA, Indiana, among others, were not listed. We’ll have more on this later today, but the problem with an analysis like this is that the metric simply doesn’t determine much of anything having to do with the quality of a fan base. For example, Louisville’s significant revenue stream has much to do with its exceptional lease deal with the Yum! Center, and little to do with the quality of its fan base (even though it is obviously very good). Mike DeCourcy agrees, as should anyone with half a brain who watches and enjoys this sport. The fact of the matter is that for something so ambiguous and difficult to define as “best fan base,” you simply cannot rely entirely on quantitative methods to get realistic answers. A holistic, qualitative component simply must be part of the methodology. To its credit, Louisville blog Card Chronicle went with the “hey, it’s a ridiculous premise, so let’s mock Kentucky fans” opportunity. Well played, sirs.
Let’s end today with a discussion of Indiana‘s undefeated 1975-76 national championship team. The last team to run the table in college basketball history is now putting its cachet together for the purpose of the greater good — stars Kent Benson and Bobby Wilkerson will release a commemorative line of products to celebrate the team’s enduring greatness, which will go on sale at their 32and0 site today. All proceeds will be split among four Indiana charities, the Hoosier Oncology Group, Komen Central Indiana, Macon Mentor Academy and Help Indiana Vets. Fans will be able to purchase home and road jerseys (with player names!), DVDs, and other memorabilia. We might just look into getting a sweet road Scott May jersey if we find some dollars hidden in the couch.
Past Imperfect is a new series focusing on the history of the game. Every Thursday, RTC contributor JL Weill (@AgonicaBoss) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: How teams over college basketball history have dealt with seemingly devastating injuries to star players. The answer? It depends …
When freshman Duke point guard Kyrie Irving came down awkwardly in a game against Butler with what was a then-seemingly innocuous injury to his toe, the entire landscape of this college hoops season was altered, perhaps irrevocably. Up to that point, there was little disputing who was the 2010-11 college basketball favorite. Not only was Duke the defending NCAA champion, it also returned most of the firepower from that title-winning side as well as adding the nation’s top point guard prospect in New Jersey’s Irving, at a position that was previously the only real soft spot on the Blue Devils roster. With Irving out indefinitely, gone was the swagger of invincibility Duke had in droves in the early weeks of the season. Gone, too, was the sheer talent and ability of Irving, who had earned his accolades and then some with his performance in the season’s first eight games. Irving had saved Duke with 31 points in a win over Michigan State at Cameron Indoor and had reached double figures in points in all of his few games as a collegian. Of course, Purdue would have gladly taken even eight games from its star, Robbie Hummel. Already rehabbing a rebuilt knee from an injury last season, Hummel lasted all of a practice and a half before coming down in a heap after blowing out the same knee. A trendy preseason Final Four pick, Purdue was left without its senior leader and second-leading returning scorer before the season had really even begun.
Kyrie Irving's Loss May Not Kill Duke's Chances in March
It remains to be seen whether Duke will shake off the likely loss of Irving’s freshman season and make a run to a second straight title or whether Purdue can find among the guys remaining the makings of a Final Four contender. Both teams have talent on the roster, if not replacements exactly. Teams in the situation Duke and Purdue find themselves in have historically had mixed results recovering. For every championship-caliber team to overcome a major personnel loss to injury there is one for whom the absence of a star player was devastating to its long-term NCAA hopes. Much of that, it turns out upon review, is related to the timing of the injury, as well as just how crucial a role the injured player played on his team. For some squads, losing a player at midseason turned out to be, while never preferred, preferable to losing him just before or during March. For others, losing an on-court presence isn’t as much an issue as losing the club’s emotional leader.
In February of 1997, Rick Pitino’s defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats were ranked fifth in the nation, riding the stellar play of dynamic scoring wings Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson to a 15-2 record heading into a seemingly innocuous game against an overmatched Auburn team at Rupp Arena. At the time, Mercer and Anderson were the most explosive 1-2 combination in America. Then, during the game, Anderson twisted his knee awkwardly on a break and tore his ACL, effectively ending his career as a Wildcat. “It’s like it’s October 15 again as far as our offensive execution is concerned,” Pitino said a few weeks later. But partly because of roster depth and partly because they had time to work around Anderson’s absence, the Wildcats regrouped and managed only three more losses the rest of the season, the final one coming in a classic overtime NCAA championship game vs. Arizona. Anderson returned for just one brief moment, sinking a pair of free throws in zero minutes played in a Final Four win over Minnesota. Kentucky fans still maintain that had Pitino played Anderson even a few minutes in the final, the Wildcats would have taken the title.
As you may have heard, for the first time ever the Final 4 will feature four #1 seeds. Although some people have been complaining about the lack of surprises, I was quite content watching Davidson make it to the Elite 8. As for the top 4 teams in the country making it to the Final 4 being the latest sign of the college basketball apocalypse, I really don’t see it as being much different than several other years where only #1 and #2 seeds made the Final 4. Would you really feel any different about this Final 4 if Texas had beaten Memphis? I doubt it unless you are a Longhorn or Tiger fan. Anyways, with a little more than 36 hours until the tip of the first semifinal I thought I would whet your appetite for the potentially great games we may see on Saturday and Monday night. On to the game. . .
With the exception of the 1992 Duke-Kentucky East Regional Final, a case can be made that Duke’s upset of UNLV in the 1991 National Semifinals was the most significant game of the past 20 years. This was the game that put Duke and Mike Krzyzewski over the top going from lovable losers to the team to beat most years. While the Blue Devils still needed to beat Kansas in the championship game (featuring Grant Hill’s alley-oop dunk from Bobby Hurley), most college fans will remember this as the de facto championship game much like the Miracle on Ice (the US had to beat Finland to win the gold). To put this game in context, you have to remember that UNLV had crushed Duke the year before in the championship game 101-71 (a record 30-pt margin).
UNLV came into this game undefeated and was widely expected to become the first team since Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers (featuring Quinn Buckner, Kent Benson, and Scott May) to go undefeated. Many experts were already speculating about where this UNLV team ranked all-time not unlike what happened with a certain football team from Massachusetts this year (minus the videotaping, but probably with more hookers). Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels came into the game 34-0 beating their opponents by an average of more than 27.5 points while averaging a ridiculous 98.3 PPG. They were led by Larry Johnson (National POY), Anderson Hunt, Greg Anthony, and Stacy Augmon). Some of our younger readers may not realize how great these guys were in college so we’ll just say you should think about what Memphis did to Michigan State in the 1st half of their Sweet 16 game this year. Now imagine a team doing that every game. That’s what this UNLV team was like for the entire season. UNLV ran through the tournament with the exception of an 8-point victory against a Georgetown team that featured Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.
On the other side of the ball, Duke came in with a respectable 30-5 record, but was only the #2 seed in its own region. After the championship game the year before nobody expected this game to be close. Duke had added Grant Hill to their roster, but he was only a freshman and nowhere near the player he was by the time he was a senior that carried a YMCA team to the 1994 championship game. In addition, the Blue Devils had lost 2 of their top players (Phil Henderson and Alaa Abdelnaby) from the year before to graduation. This was Duke’s 4th consecutive Final 4 appearance and 5th in 6 years, but they had failed to seal the deal and were becoming the Jim Kelly Buffalo Bills before there were the Jim Kelly Buffalo Bills. In the NCAA tournament, Duke advanced to the Final 4 through a relatively easy bracket thanks to some early-round upsets (beat a 15, 7, 11, and 4 seed to win the Midwest Region).
Thanks to the miracle of YouTube we can bring you footage from that game including a pregame and postgame clip.
[Editor's Note: For some reason the embedding isn't working properly except for the last video. All the videos are still up on YouTube. If you click anywhere in the box except on the "Play" button, it will load in an outside window. Sorry for the inconvenience, we're trying to figure out how to fix this.]
-Pre-game buildup and interviews with Tarkanian and Duke assistant coach (and current Harvard coach) Tommy Amaker
-Player introductions and opening minutes
-From 2:30 left in 2nd half until Laettner goes to the line.
-Laettner at the line with scored tied at 77 to post-game celebration.
-Newscast and reaction.
By the next day, the media knew they had witnessed one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. As the years passed and we only saw a few teams of the caliber of that UNLV team (’92 Duke and ’96 Kentucky), the upset grew in legend to the point where in 2000 The Sporting News ranked it as the 4th best biggest NCAA tournament upset ever and the ESPN Page 2 readers ranked it as the 4th greatest sports upset ever. I think the Page 2 poll is way off as I consider it a huge upset, but probably not in the same class as the others mentioned in that list. However, I think TSN probably comes pretty close as ridiculous as it sounds for a #2 seed beating a #1 seed to be such a big upset.
We all know what happened afterwards. Duke went on to win the first of their back-to-back titles and grew into one of the most powerful sports programs of the past 20 years while Jerry Tarkanian was fired by UNLV in 1992 and floated around the basketball universe including stops at the San Antonio Spurs and Fresno State. UNLV never reached the same heights again and only has had a measure of success with Lon Kruger getting them to the 2007 Sweet 16.
rtmsf addendum: This is a great recap of the climate surrounding this game. The 91 UNLV team was considered an absolute juggernaut. We for one will never forget the highly anticipated 1-2 regular season matchup between #1 UNLV and #2 Arkansas at the old Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville (a place where the Hawgs were nearly unbeatable at the time). UNLV absolutely blitzed the Hawgs to open the second half, never looking back in a display of athleticism and prowess virtually unmatched in all of our years watching college basketball.
One other point on this 91 Duke-UNLV game. Two months after the game, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a photo of UNLV players Anderson Hunt, Moses Scurry and David Butler sitting in a hot tub drinking beer with convicted felon and noted “sports fixer” Richard Perry (see below).
Perry had been involved in a point shaving scandal at Boston College in the 70s, and there was no shortage of similar conspiracy theories being thrown around at the time based on UNLV’s confounding loss to Duke in the national semifinals. Where there’s smoke there’s fire goes the saying, and the DOJ even felt there was sufficient cause to open an investigation into the possibility that some UNLV players may have fixed the game. To date, we’ve never heard anything come out of these allegations, but there are some who remain convinced something fishy went on during that game.
A final point that nvr1983 touched on but sounds completely absurd today is that, at the time of that 91 game, Duke was “America’s Team.” The hatred and vitriol enabled by the last 15 years of Dookie V. and ESPN had not yet taken hold, and most of the basketball public was happy to see the plucky guys from Durham (who were indeed becoming the Bills of college basketball) finally break through and win a title against the bullies from UNLV. My, how things have changed.