Virginia Tech Earns Instant Credibility With Hire of Buzz Williams

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 25th, 2014

When Virginia Tech announced on Friday that it had poached head coach Buzz Williams from Marquette to replace the recently-fired James Johnson, the immediate reaction was that of general astonishment. Why on Earth would Williams leave a team he’d taken to the postseason in five out of six years on the bench to a program that had only reached the Big Dance once since 1996 and has finished last in the ACC three years running? While the reasons, thoroughly outlined here, became more apparent in the ensuing days, the real story is the amazing acquisition made by new Virginia Tech athletic director, Whit Babcock. The hiring of Williams and the way it managed to circle all of the major media outlets during the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament play, gave the Hokies basketball program something it hasn’t experienced in years: instant credibility.

Buzz Williams Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA's (cbssports.com)

Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA Tournament (cbssports.com)

Williams oversaw a very successful Marquette program in the Big East, going an impressive 139-69 in his six years at the helm and taking the school to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite Eight run. No doubt his ability to navigate a difficult conference schedule (prior to realignment) and enjoy postseason success was extremely attractive to a Hokies program just trying to get noticed. Williams obviously looked around the ravaged Big East — a conference that the ACC raided to bring in Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh — and saw a chance to jump to the premier basketball conference in the land to match wits with four Hall of Fame coaches in Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski. Some may have originally seen the move as a bizarre one (especially Williams’ pay cut from $3 million to $2.3 million annually) , but coupling the chance to compete in the new-look ACC with the uncertainty in the Marquette administration as well as the state of the weakened Big East, the decision began to make more sense.

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ACC M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 27th, 2014

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  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Good stuff on Duke’s Jabari Parker from Laura Keeley, as she also followed up with his bishop and mother to talk about the possibility of him doing a Mormon mission next year. It’s interesting that Duke and Parker already have a plan in place for him to graduate even if he leaves after this season. The article also has a good interview with Matt Jones, Parker’s roommate, about the future top-five pick.
  2. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Tony Bennett busted out some Robert Frost this week, and it was awesome. “The hero is not fed on sweets” may help fire his team up, but they’re sure playing a sweet schedule. With only two remaining games against the top ACC teams (at Pittsburgh Sunday, and at home against Syracuse in March), the Cavaliers need to let teams come back to them. They’re already leading the conference in efficiency margin, and I expect that trend to continue. With Virginia’s talent and experience, don’t be surprised if the Cavaliers end conference play with a top-two seed in the ACC Tournament.
  3. Duke Basketball Report: With the league down as a whole, it’s time to start thinking about another new round of coaches. I think Georgia Tech will give Brian Gregory at least another year or two (emphasis on think); I have no clue about Virginia Tech (more on this later); and, Jeff Bzdelik and Steve Donahue are squarely on hot seats. The Boston College search could be the most interesting, as the school has ties to two coaches with solid resumes if it is willing to roll the dice (Bruce Pearl and Ed Cooley).
  4. Washington Post: While I have no idea what Virginia Tech is planning to do with James Johnson, this quote should definitely serve as notice to him: “One of the first decisions for Babcock will be determining how to ‘fix the basketball problem’ [according to John Ballein, an internal candidate for the athletic director].” And to be clear, that quote isn’t from the school’s new athletic director, Whit Babcock, but it does make clear that at least part of the department is already concerned with the second-year head coach. For his part, Brad Brownell, who may have landed Johnson the job by initially hiring him to Clemson, is calling for Johnson to get more time to right the ship.
  5. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Very cool story, albeit football-centric, on Georgia Tech‘s decision to leave the SEC some 50 years ago. You have to be a subscriber to get the whole piece, but the excerpt is worth reading nevertheless. The Yellow Jackets’ decision ultimately came down to the practice of oversigning recruits (at least on the surface).
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AAC M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley (@cdbradley2) on January 24th, 2014

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  1. We have written quite a lot in this space about SMU and its quest to end a two-decade NCAA Tournament drought. Now others are taking notice. Dallas Morning News columnist and Around the Horn yakker Tim Cowlishaw says thanks with a new arena, a new conference and an old coach, the Mustangs are now “must-see basketball.” But Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame coach, knows that garnering respect for close losses to defending champion Louisville isn’t where the program needs to be; it’s when such a loss is a disappointment, because the expectation is to win, that the Mustangs will have arrived.
  2. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin wants to find more playing time for freshman guard Kevin Johnson, but he has one big obstacle to that goal: Sean Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick not only leads the Bearcats in scoring, but also the entire conference, and he’s the heart and soul of the AAC leaders. He’s also averaging nearly 32 minutes per game this year and 36 minutes in conference play, which makes finding time for his backup a challenge. Cronin knows that the freshman needs time now if he is to be relied upon come March, but it’s got to be tough to take your best player off the floor any more than necessary.
  3. The Bearcats will travel to Louisville next Thursday to take on the second-place Cardinals, and perhaps the biggest story will be the return of Louisville point guard Chris Jones. The junior has missed the past three games with strained muscle in his side, and freshman Terry Rozier has filled in so well that a growing contingent of Cardinal fans are wondering aloud if maybe Rozier shouldn’t keep the job. Coach Rick Pitino admits that Jones still has some adjusting to do when it comes to playing with Russ Smith, but also made it clear that the team is better off with Jones than without him. While that is hard to deny, we wouldn’t be surprised if Rozier finds himself on the floor in more and more crucial moments, even after Jones returns.
  4. UConn athletic director Warde Manuel has denied that he’s a candidate for the same job at Virginia Tech. In only two years on the job, Manuel has been plenty busy; among other challenges, he has overseen the transition from Big East to AAC and hired coach Kevin Ollie to replace Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun. That hire seems to be going well thus far, but it generally isn’t ideal for coaches who haven’t solidified their position for the guy who hired them to leave. And it would probably sting a bit extra if Manuel left for the ACC, the league that passed over UConn not so long ago.
  5. While Manuel might be out, Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock is a candidate for the AD job at Virginia Tech, a source told the Roanoke Times. Babcock is in his third year at Cincinnati, and during his tenure he too lost out in his efforts to secure a spot in the ACC for his school. He then saw his football coach depart for an SEC job; presumably the frustrations inherent in being on the outside looking in at the top tier of college athletics might be enough to get a young up and comer to jump, particularly when it would bring him back to the state where he attended college himself at James Madison.
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An Open Letter To Cincinnati: Please Stop Scheduling Kennesaw State

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 1st, 2013

Dear Mr. Babcock and Mr. Cronin,

Without knowing enough about the nuances that go into filling out a full non-conference schedule for your men’s basketball team, I do not envy that part of your job. I cannot imagine all the different factors that need to be taken into consideration and how much tireless negotiation goes on behind the scenes to make sure the schedule is set long in advance. I say all of this to acknowledge the fact that this part of your jobs can’t be easy; in fact, I bet it is a rather arduous and stressful process. That said, you took these jobs knowing full well it would be a part of your responsibilities and it is also your responsibility to put your basketball team in the best position to succeed while making sure you don’t break the bank to do so.

Nothing Says Statement Win Quite Like Beating Mississippi Valley State By 42.

Nothing Says Statement Win Quite Like Beating Mississippi Valley State By 42.

You guys aren’t oblivious. You must be able to recognize the pattern that has emerged in recent years. What was a woeful program in 2007 had become a consistent 20-game winner by 2011. In the last three seasons, the program has won more than 20 games every year, and yet every year, when March rolls around, you and your fans find yourselves sweating out Selection Sunday because the team finds itself on the bubble again. It doesn’t take a basketball expert to figure out why that is. It is because the strength of the program’s non-conference schedule has consistently ranked amongst the worst in the country and your end-of-season RPI inevitably suffers because of it.

We know you read KenPom, so both of you can plainly see  what we can — that the strength of your non-conference schedule has been a running joke for the past five seasons. From 2009 to 2013 it has ranked 236th, 166th, 327th, 274th, and 291st, respectively. This is not how you build an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume and one could easily make the argument that it is not how you prepare your team for a brutal conference schedule either.

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Big East M5: 01.25.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 25th, 2013

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  1. In the words of the immortal Roseanne Roseannadanna, “it’s always something” with Syracuse basketball. This year’s something — or second something on the heels of Michael Carter-Williams Lord & Taylor mishap — is the current academic ineligibility of James Southerland. Details and rumors have been leaking out around the Internet, as they are wont to do in circumstances like this, and new information from Jim Boeheim seems to give credence to one of them“He’s a senior, he has worked hard to be in school, to stay in school – he has worked hard on and off the court. He had a great semester last fall academically. I am hoping that through the process you have to go through that he will be able to come back.” There has been speculation that Southerland’s issues may stem from a fraudulent term paper which is being investigated by the NCAA. While there is always the chance that the NCAA discovers that the NCAA wrote Southerland’s paper and that the NCAA will now impose sanctions on the NCAA, most Syracuse fans aren’t too optimistic about the situation.
  2. Louisville‘s been in this spot before. After running through a huge chunk of its schedule with one blemish against their record, the Cardinals have dropped two straight, the latter being a heart-breaker at the hands of Villanova in Philadelphia. The 2010-11 Cardinals lost to a much stronger Villanova team at the time, but the feelings are the same as they were a few seasons ago – something must change. That team found its leadership in Preston Knowles, who rallied the team following the loss to ‘Nova and led them to the NCAA Tournament. This squad does not have a Knowles to lean on, but it does have a number of experienced veterans who have plenty of wins under their belt. If any team is equipped to handle a down spell, it is probably Louisville. I don’t think this year’s squad will be falling to any #13 seeds in March either.
  3. Many have complained about the Big East scheduling this season and it is justified criticism, but UConn and Shabazz Napier are currently the benefactor of some serious time off. Napier had been playing with an injured shoulder and was not able to provide what UConn needs from its star, and as a result the Huskies dropped two games. After a week of rest, UConn takes on Rutgers at the XL Center Sunday, and Napier should be in much better shape than he has been over the last few weeks.
  4. Speaking of Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights are in a bit of a quandary when it comes to Eli Carter. He is one of the team’s only reliable scorers and the offense suffers without him on the floor, but Carter has gone absolutely ice cold and shot the Knights out of the game on multiple occasions this season. Scorers will go through droughts, and staying aggressive is one way to get through them, but having multiple one-field goal games is unacceptable. The Star-Ledger‘s Brendon Prunty believes that Carter should come off the bench as a spark plug for Rutgers if he cannot be the consistent scorer in the starting lineup that he was expected to be.
  5. Despite recent success, Cincinnati is a long way from selling out Fifth Third Arena on a regular basis, but an increase in student turnout has helped create a spike in attendance from last season. Cincy moved from an assigned seat to a general admission student model that many schools use, set up a loyalty rewards program, and has implemented some creative marketing to help drive student turnout. However, the biggest factor is the team’s success, according to athletic director Whit Babcock: “We’re not satisfied until every game is sold out, but I like the steps that we’ve taken. Mick and the team should get the bulk of the credit.”
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