This’ll be quick one today because our usual writer is busy inviting a bunch of dudes over to his pad for some game involving another collegiate sport tonight. A sport that tends to have trouble deciding who the most worthy teams are for its championship just about every year. Our opinion of that faux-championship game is below.
When Does Utah Play in the Finals?
As for the rest of your evening, while you’re not watching Oklahoma and Florida throw balls all over the field en route to a 65-63 finish, enjoy a warm post-coital buffet of some college hoops. There’s a surprisingly tasty slate on tap for tonight, with four games involving Top 25 teams.
– Wright St. @ Butler on ???. Wright St. appears to be coming out of the fog that enveloped its team during the first two months of the season, as they’ve won 8 of 9 games with the only loss coming at #4 Wake Forest. Butler, on the other hand, continues to roll along, but the Bulldogs have had trouble with WSU, losing seven of their last ten against the Raiders including their last two when ranked. The big question is whether this game’s total will outscore the BCS game’s.
– Minnesota @ Iowa on ESPN2. Iowa hasn’t gotten much publicity this season, but the Hawkeyes are 9-0 in their home arena, a place where Minnesota has lost seven of their last eight visits. Minny’s only other true road test was a one-point win over Colorado St., so we’re a little skeptical about the validity of Tubby’s 13-1 record (best start since 1996-97). Still, if Minnesota can get a road win in a place they traditionally don’t play well, it would go a long way toward establishing itself as one of the upper elite of Big Ten teams this year.
– Oregon @ Arizona on FSN Regional. This is a battle between teams who were swept in their first Pac-10 tilts last weekend. The difference is that at least Arizona was on the road in the Bay Area when they went 0-2. Oregon plays defense like most teams enjoy suicide sprints; in other words, not at all. Arizona should have a field day of open looks and easy layups for Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and others to take advantage of. They just need to make sure that Jamelle Horne is nowhere near the floor at the end of the game.
– Oregon St. @ Arizona St. on FSN. Arizona St. may be without the services of forward Jeff Pendergraph tonight, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking in on Herb Sendek’s team for a quick glance at possibly the most complete guard in America, James Harden (23/6/5 on 55%/44% shooting). OSU is coming off of its first Pac-10 win in nearly two years vs. USC, but that was at home. Still, OSU has been much more competitive this year.
– Stanford @ Washington on FSN Regional. UW is a team that hasn’t been talked about much this year, and why would we? They’re 10-3, but they’ve lost to nearly every good team they’ve played (Portland, Kansas, Florida). Stanford got its comeuppence last weekend when Arizona St. dominated them in Maples. But the Cardinal did recover to beat Arizona, and UW had a nice win over its in-state rival Wazzu, so this could make for an interesting contest. Both teams have low-grade NCAA aspirations, so they need to win these types of games.
– Cal St. Fullerton @ Cal Poly on ESPNU. The BCS game should be ending around 12:30am due to all the passing and timeouts, so turn this one on for the last five minutes to see CSF’s Josh Akognon play for the first time in your life. His Titans (6-8 ) aren’t very good, so it’s unlikely you’ll see him in March – this might be your last opportunity to see this fantastic collegian while still in school.
Behind the Line: WVU is on fire and have covered their last 3 games while Uconn has failed to cover their last 2.
Ohio St. at Michigan St(12)
Behind the Line: The Buckeyes have dropped their last 3 against the spread while the Spartans have done the exact opposite.
Wednesday, January 7
Davidson at Duke(2)
Behind the Line: Similar to the first game, Davidson is not so hot while Duke is scorching. Davidson has dropped 4 straight against the spread and Duke has covered their last 3.
Gonzaga at Tennessee(25)
Behind the Line: Two teams that are not playing their best ball. The Zags have lost 3 straight and the Vols are coming off a loss at Kansas. Tennessee is undefeated at home while Gonzaga is just 1-2 on the road. Both of these teams score a lot of points. Combined, 6 out of their last 9 games have gone to the over.
Thursday, January 8
Wright St. at Butler(20)
Behind the Line: Wright State is 7-7 this season and are 1-5 on the road. However, they have covered their last 4 games against the spread albeit against lesser competition. Butler has covered 4 of their last 5 games. There is a possibility that the line could be friendly due to these occurrences.
Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.
Milwaukee (3-0, 7-5)
Butler (2-0, 11-1)
Green Bay (2-0, 9-4)
UIC ( 1-1, 8-4)
Valparaiso (1-1, 4-9)
Cleveland State (1-2, 10-5)
Wright State (1-2, 7-7)
Youngstown State (1-2, 4-8)
Loyola (0-1, 8-5)
Detroit (0-3, 4-8)
I’m feeling a little prophetic since the last time we checked in on the Horizon League. All I’ll say is that the developments don’t bode well for the Horizon League’s two-bid aspirations. But, it does speak to the level of competition that teams face night in and night out in the Horizon League. Before we get into some team-by-team breakdowns, lets take a quick look at the league as a whole, which has enjoyed a successful non-conference season.
Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.
I’m going to keep it simple this time around…using a symbol so recognizable, that sometimes teams use this gesture as a way to call their plays on the floor. It’s either “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as we spotlight the latest and greatest happenings in the Horizon League.
THREE THUMBS UP (If we had that many): UIC – (4-2, 0-0)
The Flames knocked off Vanderbilt on Wednesday at the home of the Commodores, 74-55. “Vanderbilt,” UIC head coach Jimmy Collins told me before the season started, “is the most difficult place on the planet to play.” Well, Collins’ club made it look easy, shooting 12-of-19 from the 3-point arc (63%), outrebounding Vandy, while also tallying more assists and less turnovers than their SEC opponent. We all know Josh Mayo can play (30 points on 8-of-10 shooting from 3-point line), but the key to this firestorm was sophomore, Robert “Robo” Kreps (23 points on 10-of-15 shooting). If Kreps can continue to support Mayo on the perimeter, all while 7-footer Scott VanderMeer controls the glass, UIC could make a push for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2003-04.
Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is RTC’s Horizon League correspondent.
LET US EAT TURKEY, STUFFING, AND ALL THOSE OTHER THANKSGIVING-Y DELIGHTS
Can you smell it? I can. I could smell it a month ago. No, no…not college basketball season. I was inhaling that scent back in September after my rooting interest in college football decided to figuratively sit this season out.
The smell permeating my brain is, and has been, Thanksgiving dinner. For me, it’s tough to top a holiday where I can catch a course of college basketball to help my ease my indigestion. I suppose I bring it upon myself though, as eating my way into a state of near-coma has become less of a task brought on by my Grandmother…and more of a conscious decision that I warmly embrace (see also: making a “food baby”).
That being said, there are several correlations between what I can expect to see at my family’s dinner table on Thanksgiving and what I have already seen from my beloved Horizon League basketball squads. Yeah, it’s early, but let’s eat.
MIXED NUTS: MILWAUKEE (3-1)
It’s what you eat while you’re waiting for the feast to be served. Milwaukee’s wins against Loyola-Marymount, UC Davis, and Upper Iowa were to be expected… beating Iowa State in Ames would have been like finding a cashew. For now, Milwaukee fans should be thankful for newcomers Tone Boyle and Tony Meier to the starting lineup. Avery Smith is also back in Panther black after a year in exile, which isn’t hurting anything. How they perform on Saturday against city rival Marquette should tell us a little more.
HOUSE SALAD: WRIGHT STATE (0-1)
Most dinner tables feature some type of leafy green salad. You know what you’re getting with this dish… few surprises here. Wright State’s home loss to Illinois State has me wondering if some of the romaine has gone bad, but I’ll dig in anyway. Winning Saturday at Central Michigan is key for the Raiders.
TURKEY AND STUFFING: CLEVELAND STATE (1-1)
Unfortunately, this time around, the bird appears overdone and tastes a little dry. Just about everyone sees Cleveland State as the team to beat in the Horizon League this year, but their early performances have me asking for more Kool-aid. The Vikings barely got past Oakland at home in their season opener… then lost at Washington by 15. Yes, the same Washington Huskies that lost at Portland just three days earlier. J’Nathan Bullock and Cedric Jackson are shooting a combined 26% (15 of 57) from the field thus far. That needs to change on Saturday when they host Kansas State.
MASHED POTATOES AND GRAVY: BUTLER (2-0)
Done right, they can easily steal the show at any Thanksgiving meal. Butler, at this point, is on the verge of proving that this batch of Bulldogs is more than just a bag of spuds. Butler opened the season by leading 39 of 40 minutes in a 10-point victory at defending Missouri Valley Conference champion Drake, and handled a much improved Ball State squad by 9 in their home opener. Of the three freshmen in Butler’s starting lineup, Gordon Hayward has been the most offensive-minded (10ppg), while Ronald Nored is giving opposing guards fits defensively. Teams are focusing on how to shut down All-Horizon League forward Matt Howard, but he continues to be a force in the middle (13.5ppg, 6.5rpg). Head coach Brad Stevens definitely has something cooking with his new rotation of players.
CRANBERRY RELISH: LOYOLA (1-2)
Despite how pristine they may look, one taste of the cranberries is a swift reminder that they are little more than a bitter fruit. J.R. Blount had a beautiful point total (42) in the Ramblers’ season opener against Division II Rockhurst, but Loyola lost by 7. Determined, Loyola strolled into their NIT Season Tip-off matchup with Georgia and promptly dispatched the Bulldogs by 21. One day later, the Ramblers were run out of Mackey Arena at the hands of Purdue, by 32. The berries are upsetting my stomach.
ASSORTED PIES: VALPO (2-0), UIC (1-1), GREEN BAY (0-1)
It’s really hard to go wrong here. Whether it’s pumpkin or apple, most pies generally live up to expectations. Valparaiso has done so by winning its first two games against lesser competition (Marian College and Central Florida). UIC has done so by faltering on the road against one Missouri Valley opponent (Bradley), then turning around and beating another on their home floor (Northern Iowa). Green Bay, thus far, is more like a lemon meringue pie. I once had a bad experience with lemon meringue pie, and that’s why I’m concerned for the Phoenix. Their loss at Utah doesn’t bother me, but the fact that injuries are already taking a toll on this veteran squad isn’t the way head coach Tod Kowalczyk wanted to start a season with what he calls his “most talented” and “deepest team.”
LEFTOVERS: DETROIT (0-2), YOUNGSTOWN STATE (0-2)
We love them, but we know the food isn’t quite as tasty after a night in the refrigerator. Anything noteworthy that Detroit and Youngstown State provide this year will likely pale in comparison to what the rest of the teams in the Horizon League provide.
Now for some Horizon League games to look forward to over the next couple weeks:
Cleveland State vs. Kansas State
UIC vs. Depaul (HLN – 8pm ET)
Milwaukee @ Marquette
Wright State vs. Miami (OH) (HLN – 7pm ET)
Butler vs. Northwestern (HLN – 7pm ET)
Milwaukee @ Wisconsin
Green Bay vs. UMass (HLN – 8pm ET)
UIC @ Vanderbilt
Butler @ Cleveland State (ESPNU – 8pm ET)
*HLN refers to the Horizon League Network, the Horizon League’s broadband initiative, which is set to webcast 130 men’s basketball games this season, including out-of-conference “home” contests and ALL in-league matchups. The Horizon League offers the service for FREE, and signing up takes about 30 seconds. The site also offers on-demand content, team-specific features, and a weekly update featuring the “goings-on” around the league. Cool site – check it out.
Damon Lewis, a reporter and play-by-play announcer for the Horizon League Network, is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League.
Predicted Order of Finish.
Wright State (24-6, 15-3)
Cleveland State (21-10, 13-5)
Green Bay (19-12, 11-7)
Butler (16-13, 11-7)
Loyola (20-11, 10-8)
UIC (13-16, 8-10)
Milwaukee (13-16, 7-11)
Valparaiso (12-18, 7-11)
Youngstown State (10-19, 4-14)
Detroit (7-22, 4-14)
What You Need to Know. It’s been a slow and steady climb for the Horizon League, but the midwestern ten-member league has built itself into a force to be reckoned with on the mid-major college basketball scene. The buzz word among Horizon League coaches last season was depth, referring to the overall strength of the league from top to bottom. Nowhere was that more evident than in the fact that four teams (Butler, Cleveland State, Wright State, Valparaiso) topped the 20-win plateau. Having four 20-win squads was a first for the Horizon League, and led to three of those four competing in postseason play (Butler – NCAA, Cleveland State – NIT, Valpo – CBI). While having multiple teams competing in the postseason is nothing new in this league, having multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament isn’t yet the “norm,” but it isn’t completely foreign either (3 times in the last 11 years). What’s the point, you ask? This league may be even deeper this season, as seven teams return three or more starters from last season, including front-runners Wright State, Cleveland State, and Green Bay. Butler, by most accounts, is bringing in one of the best recruiting classes the Horizon League has ever seen to go along with reigning Newcomer of the Year, Matt Howard (12.3ppg, 5.5rpg). Meanwhile, UIC has a favorite for league POY honors in sharpshooter Josh Mayo (17.1ppg, 47% 3fg%), and one of the few true “bigs” in the entire league in 7-footer, Scott VanderMeer (9.3ppg, 7.5rpg). This could be another year where the Horizon receives multiple NCAA bids, but for the first time in awhile, that at-large bid isn’t likely to have Butler’s name on it (Butler advanced to the S16 as an at-large NCAA bid in 2003 and 2007).
Predicted Champion.Wright State (#11 seed NCAA). The Raiders have plenty of talent, and trust me, we’ll get to that in a moment. But the green-and-gold have the ultimate ace in the hole: head coach Brad Brownell. Brownell, if he really tried, could probably turn the Oakland Raiders into a winner, all while keeping Al Davis satisfied in the process. Seriously. Alright, kidding aside, all Brownell has done is win wherever he’s been (including two NCAA appearances in four seasons at UNC-Wilmington). He won the Horizon League in his inaugural season two years ago, and followed that up with 21 wins and a 3rd-place regular season finish last year. Admittedly, his team was lacking athleticism and a go-to scorer, but the “other” school in Dayton got it done with grit and commitment on the defensive end, giving up just 60.4 ppg and notching 13 wins in games decided by 5 points or less. In a guard-dominated league, Wright State returns its entire backcourt. Vaughn Duggins (HL 1st Team, 13.8 ppg), Todd Brown (12.7 ppg), and 5th-year senior Will Graham (5.9 ppg, 3.5 apg), will lead the way with a three-headed-monster of Ronnie Thomas, Cooper Land, and Gavin Horne battling for time down low. Two newcomers are expected to see significant minutes from the start. Scott Grote, a transfer from Duquesne, (9.9 ppg in 29 games as a freshman) and Cory Cooperwood (two-time JUCO All-American at Wallace State CC, 15.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), will undoubtedly inject energy, electricity, and most importantly, more points into the Wright State attack. The schedule is solid for a mid-major, but not impressive enough to warrant a single-digit NCAA seed unless the Raiders were to, say, run the table.
Others Considered. Cleveland State. Most prognosticators will likely choose the Vikings as the team to beat this year in the Horizon League, and they may very well be right. Gary Waters has no doubt turned this program around in just two seasons at the helm, and while his programs have a history of taking major leaps forward in year number three (Kent State, Rutgers), a major leap forward this year will be hard to achieve given the depth in the Horizon League and the Vikings brutal non-conference schedule. The two unknowns about this squad are: 1) How will they respond to having a target on their back? And, 2) How will they respond to losses? After all, they came out of nowhere last year to score 21 wins and finish 2nd in the Horizon League. But, in late January the Vikes held a two-game lead over Butler in the league standings, only to lose five straight and fall back to the pack. One thing is for sure, however, J’Nathan Bullock (HL 1st Team, 14.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Cedric Jackson (HL 2nd Team, 13.9 ppg, 4.9 apg) make up the best inside-out combination in the league. Waters readily admits his team struggled shooting from the perimeter last season (30.2% from 3) and combine that with a trend of using several bodies on the bench — nine players averaged at least 14 mpg and played in at least 33 of 34 games last year — and freshman bombers like Jeremy Montgomery, Josh McCoy, and Charlie Woods could find themselves in crucial roles. All five starters return in Green Bay, along with coach Tod Kowalczyk’s top two reserves. Mike Schachtner, Terry Evans, and Rahmon Fletcher each took home Horizon League postseason honors last year. Senior forward Ryan Tillema is no slouch either. Battered and bruised, this team struggled to a 15-15 mark last season. If healthy, the Phoenix will be much improved. Underachieving again would be a bittersweet way to go out for Schachtner, Evans, and Tillema. The player to watch at Butler — aside from Matt Howard, whose exploits are well documented (check out #96) — is freshman combo guard, Shelvin Mack. His maturation process will determine how successful the extremely young Bulldogs will be this season. Loyola top gun J.R. Blount and the rest of the Ramblers should rebound from a rough season, thanks to a returning core of veterans (four starters). Valparaiso may be in for a big slide after losing their top two scorers to graduation, and two more major scoring threats in the offseason — Bryan Bouchie and Samuel Haanpaa — who both left the program (Bouchie transfered to Evansville, Haanpaa returned overseas and signed a professional contract). Here are Butler’s final seconds in last year’s Horizon League championship.
Key Games / RPI Booster Games.
@ Washington — 11.18.08 (…tough)
@ West Virginia — 12.6.08 (…tougher)
@ Syracuse — 12.15.08 (…toughest)
vs. Kent State — 12.23.08 (…a rivalry game to boot!)
@ Ohio State — 12.13.08
@ Xavier — 12.23.08 (…a good measuring stick for the Bulldogs)
@ Wake Forest — 12.14.08 (…Wake is rumored to be “back”)
vs. Oral Roberts — 12.20.08
vs. Cleveland State — 12.30.08
@ Cleveland State — 1.31.09
Pre-Season NIT vs. Georgia — 11.17.08 (…guaranteed 4 decent games)
@ UIC — 12.6.08
vs. UIC — 2.27.09
vs. North Carolina — 12.20.08 (…in Chicago @ United Center)
@ Purdue — 12.28.08
*A complete list of Horizon League contests set to be broadcast by the ESPN family of networks can be found here. All league contests can be viewed online, for free, on the Horizon League Network.
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. If Cleveland State can get to their first showdown at Wright State, (12.30.08) sporting a record of 11-3 or better, then the chances of the Horizon League being a two-bid league are very solid. Only the Vikings boast a non-conference schedule strong enough that, if they can win a couple of the big games, would compensate for a couple of extra losses in league play. Of course, if Wright State runs away with the regular season title (or anyone for that matter), an upset in the championship game could also result in multiple bids for this league.
Did You Know. Following the 1992-1993 season, University of Michigan assistant coach Perry Watson left Ann Arbor to take over as the head coach at Detroit-Mercy. The spot vacated by Watson at Michigan was initially filled by Ray McCallum, but McCallum never coached a game at Michigan. Instead, he returned to his alma mater, Ball State, and became the head coach of the Cardinals. After a successful run in Muncie, IN, McCallum moved on to lead the University of Houston, followed by assistant coaching jobs at Oklahoma and Indiana. This past spring, McCallum was hired as the head coach at Detroit, once again filling a void left by Watson, who resigned after 15 seasons with the Titans. Watson guided Detroit to the NCAA second round in 1998 and 1999, and the NIT in 2001 and 2002.
65 Team Era. Let’s get this out of the way right now – over the last decade the Horizon has been the most successful mid-major conference in the NCAA Tournament (defining mid-major as normally a one-bid league). In six of the last eight tournaments, a Horizon team has won at least one game (with an average seed of #11.1). Three of those years, a Horizon team played itself into the Sweet Sixteen (Butler – 2003, 2007; Milwaukee – 2005). Additionally, you wanna talk about a tough out – consider the teams that are knocking out these Horizon squads – three #1 seeds, three #2 seeds, two #3 seeds, including both Florida national champions. Not bad, not bad at all. The Horizon’s record of 20-32 (.385) over this era matches up even or better than every one of its peers, and there’s no reason to believe it will end soon.
Final Thoughts. It’s hard to imagine a program like Valparaiso finishing 8th, but someone has to end up there in this deep, talented league. Heck, we haven’t even mentioned Milwaukee yet, as scoring machines Ricky Franklin, Avery Smith, and Deonte Roberts are all back. While programs like Detroit and Youngstown State seem to be a step behind the rest of the league right now, you can bet they’ll be competitive night in and night out. If you catch a Horizon League game on television, you won’t be “wowed” by superb athletic ability, but what you will find, for the most part, is team-oriented basketball with disciplined student-athletes who are just as comfortable grinding out a 54-52 victory as they are pushing their team’s point total into the 80s. The players are skilled, the action is rough, and the future is bright.
Are the leaves changing colors in your town? We’re less than three weeks until Midnight Madness…
Santa Clara center John Bryant, the WCC’s leading returner in rebounds and blocks (and second in scoring), was literallystabbed in the back this weekend. He is expected to make a full recovery.
Andy Katz takes a look at three teams he expects are ready to rise again this season – Ohio St., Nevada, Wake Forest.
The NYT reports that Tommy Amaker is continuing to make friends at Harvard.
Pitt’s Jamie Dixon proves that unproven commodities who are bright and work hard can be just as (if not more) successful than the old retreads. Why does that sound strangely familiar? Another one of those unknown coaches, Wright St.’s Brad Brownell, was profiled by HoopWise as well.
UCLA’s stalwart Darren Collison says he’s back in Westwood to win that elusive national title.
Jeff Goodman puts a gun to the head of two top recruiting gurus and forces them to predict where the 2009 Top 10 prospects will end up. If true, Memphis will be scary good in 2010.
Siena is seeking to become the new Gonzaga, er, Davidson.
Recap. Apologies to everyone, but we’ve had a serious family matter to attend to in recent days, so we’ve lost a little of our mojo in keeping up with the blog. The good news is that Saturday was really the only decent day’s worth of games over the last four days. So here are the highlights (some of which we saw) from last weekend.
Games We Watched. Arizona 78, Illinois 72 (OT). The big news surrounding this game was the re-emergence of Lute Olson on Friday long enough for his wife to notify everyone that she is a money-grubbing Republican operative and Olsonare getting a divorce and he needs time (i.e., the rest of the season) away from the program to put his personal life back together. What we saw: for the second consecutive game, Kevin O’Neill’s Wildcats got themselves down big early (12-0 to start the game), only to gut out a second half comeback led by Jerryd Bayless (20/5 assts) to win against a tough opponent. Sure, it took a fortuitous no-call for UA guard Nic Wise, who quite obviously signalled for a timeout that his team didn’t have, to get them into OT, but a road (Chicago) win is a road win. Arizona sophomore forward Jordan Hill added 23/14 for the Cats, who we’re starting to think might have a little toughness in them this year after all. As for the Illini, they have only themselves to blame with their feeble 10-22 from the foul line for the game. #19 Pittsburgh 79, Washington 78.This was another fantastic game. Pitt picked up a hard-earned road win in a venue where UW simply doesn’t lose very often (33 straight against non-conference opponents). The game was close throughout, and it was ultimately decided with a five-minute video review of Washington’s Justin Dentmon’s runner at the buzzer that dropped through the net after bouncing around the rim several times. In the olden days before video review of buzzer beaters, UW walks off with that win and Pitt goes home 8-1, but not now. The officials concluded (rightly, although it was extremely close) that Dentmon’s shot was after the horn and therefore Pitt was the winner, much to the communal chagrin of the Washington crowd. Great non-conf win for Pitt. #14 Indiana 70, Kentucky 51. We watched this one out of a sense of history and tradition of the sport, but we wish we hadn’t, in retrospect. E-Giddy didn’t even play and still the Hoosiers rolled up the Cats and smoked them like a fat Cohiba. The story of the game was that IU guard Jordan Crawford (20 pts on 5-10 shooting) completely and totally outplayed his older UK brother, Joe Crawford (10 pts on 4-15), to the point where even Billy Packer was gushing. If any game encapsulated the frustratingly enigmatic career of former HS stud Joe, this was it. DJ White added 16/13 for the Hoosiers (his fifth straight dub-dub), while UK’s only legit player, Patrick Patterson, finished with 15/5. Oh, and we don’t have the time nor inclination to get into all the Alex Legion nonsense, but if you’re interested, he’s leaving UK (possible destination: Michigan?) and ASoB discusses it much more in-depth than we can.
Other Good Games. #15 Marquette 81, Wisconsin 76.Tremendous win for Marquette, because Wisconsin just does not lose in the Kohl Center (28 in a row prior to this game). Surprisingly, it was the undersized Marquette interior players who played with abandon on the boards and won that battle (37-29) against the taller, beefier Wisconsin front line. Marquette is awfully tough to beat when Dominic James (20/5/6 assts) plays well. #13 Michigan St. 68, #21 BYU 61. This battle of ranked teams had upset written all over it, but give credit to MSU, who was down ten at the half on the road but managed to regain its composure and stick it to the Cougars in the second half (67% shooting). If you want an upset specialist for March, keep an eye on BYU as a #5-#7 seed, especially if their draw is out west. They’ve played UNC, Louisville and Michigan St. very tough already (defeating UL), and Trent Plaisted (19/8) is an interior stud. #5 UCLA 75, Davidson 63. Davidson must be getting tired of this same old song and dance by now: play a top ten team extremely well for about 30-35 minutes, only to have the other teams’ size and strength win out in the end. They have a really good team, but they probably should have scheduled more teams ranked in the 25-50 range in order to pick up a few more Ws (we still think they’ll beat NC State later this month). In this one, Davidson roared out to an 18-pt lead in Pauley Pavilion (32-14) before the Bruins awakened from their slumber and led by Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (21/8) and Kevin Love (12/12), took over the game. Davidson’s Stephen Curry didn’t shoot well (6-19) in a 15/4 performance. UCLA is showing signs of boredom, and their next really tough game isn’t until the Pac-10 schedule begins in January.
Upsets. It was a good upset Saturday. Dayton 70, #10 Louisville 65. The enigma known as Derrick Caracter signed a good behavior contract on Saturday morning, put up 16/7 in a home loss to Dayton, then proceeded to break said contract (curfew) that very night after the game. After getting busted by the coaches, he then stewed in his room for an hour before sneaking out AGAIN. Wow. So with Palacios and Padgett out injured until who knows when, and Caracter seemingly unable and unwilling to stay eligible, the word is that Pitino is tinkering with the idea of a five-guard lineup. A once promising season is bordering on the edge of disaster in Louisville these days. Dayton’s Brian Roberts lit up the Cards for 28 pts, as the Flyers (now 7-1) won against UL for the second straight year.
Rhode Island 91, Syracuse 89. Staying with the A10 over Big East theme, how did Syracuse shoot 54% at home and still lose? Well, it didn’t hurt that URI was 12-18 from three and made its FTs down the stretch. This might be one of those games that doesn’t look like much of an upset a month or two from now (URI is now 10-1. with the one loss at BC). Jonny Flynn had 21/10 for the Orange. Wright St. 43, #9 Butler 42. Butler just can’t get past these guys, especially in Dayton. Three of Butler’s last six losses were to Wright St., and the MO for each one has been the same – stop AJ Graves. Graves was held to 6 pts on 2-11 shooting in the high -scoring affair (only three players combined reached double figures). Butler may get all the hype, but Wright St. under Brad Brownell has once again announced that it will be a contender in the Horizon. Stephen F. Austin 66, Oklahoma 62. OU’s losses to Memphis and USC are understandable, but how does the same team that blitzed Tulsa by 26 and TCU by 24 in its previous two games turn around and lose to SFA at home?
As the Wake Forest community struggles to begin the healing process after the shocking death of Coach Skip Prosser last week, fans and alumni are left wondering what will happen next? While there’s a standard protocol in place for when a coach retires, leaves for another program or simply gets fired, there really isn’t one for something like this. Wake’s AD Ron Wellman is facing some tough internal conflicts:
When is the appropriate time to begin talking about replacing a man that was so dear to the campus community?
How do you strike a proper balance between respect for the man’s family and legacy while also working in the best long-term interests of the school?
What do you say to the players and recruits about the direction in which the program will be going, as their lives and futures are most impacted by your immediate decisions?
Wellman Has a Difficult Road Ahead to Navigate
We don’t envy Wellman’s position, as he is facing an extremely precarious situation. Any decision made too rashly or emotionally could negatively affect the basketball (and overall sports) program for the next decade. Any decision made too callously or calculatingly could result in a negative undercurrent that could also tarnish the integrity of the school and program. The key for Wellman, as when he hired Prosser and football coach Jim Grobe, is to find a situation that appropriately balances all factors to the greatest extent possible. MUCH easier said than done.
The Wake Forest message boards have already been buzzing about possible replacements for Coach Prosser, and as expected, they have fallen into two camps. As best we can ballpark it, from half to two-thirds of Wake fans would like to see Wellman promote from within, giving either of Prosser’s assistant coaches Dino Gaudio or Jeff Battle a chance to lead the program without the dreaded “interim” tag attached. There are a couple of recent precedents for this course of action – Northwestern promoted its top assistant Pat Fitzgerald when its head football coach, Randy Walker, unexpectedly died in July 2006. Indiana did likewise with Bill Lynch when its head football coach, Terry Hoeppner, died of a brain tumor in June 2007. Wellman may feel less pressure to make this move with the announcement today that the vaunted “AT&T” class of 2008 are expected to keep their verbal commitments to the school.
The remainder would like to see Wellman open up a national search for a new coach. Despite the lateness of the season in the coaching carousel, there is a reasonable expectation that some coaches would leave their current programs mid-stream in order to have an opportunity at an ACC school with a top-rated recruiting class set to arrive. The most commonly discussed names (with positives and negatives below) are:
Mike Montgomery – former head coach of Stanford (1986-2004) and the Golden State Warriors (2004-06)
Monty is the only former D1 coach out there who is currently available.
He fits the “profile” in that he ran a clean program in a strict academic environment at a small private school competing in a BCS conference.
Very successful at Stanford and Montana (25 winning seasons in 26 years), including a F4 appearance in 1998.
Would a long-time California guy want to move to the east coast?
He is sixty years old – would he have the requisite drive and/or interest at this point in his life?
Can Wake Lure Monty out of Retirement?
Anthony Grant – current VCU head coach (2006-present) and former uber-recruiter under Billy Donovan at Florida (1996-2006)
Clearly he’s on the fast track to a major job – it’s simply a matter of when and where?
Plays an exciting uptempo style of ball honed while on staff with Billy D at Florida.
Has shown he can beat Duke in March.
Only one year of collegiate head coaching experience (although a very good year at VCU).
41 years old – inexperienced, but potential to become Wake’s coach for the next 25 years.
How About Anthony Grant?
Gregg Marshall – current Wichita St. head coach (2007) and former Winthrop head coach (1998-2007)
A (South) Carolina guy who is familiar with the ins and outs of recruiting in the area as well as the ACC.
Just took a job with Wichita St. in April 2007 after nine very successful seasons at Winthrop – too disruptive and unfair to WSU?
Style of play could be a problem – Wake fans tend to want to play uptempo basketball, and Marshall’s teams are slower than Xmas.
44 years old, but experienced and very successful considering he was at a Big South school for nine seasons (7 NCAA appearances)
Bob McKillop – current Davidson head coach (1989-present)
Another coach familiar with the landscape of the ACC, having worked and recruited in the area for nearly two decades.
Tremendous success at a small academically-oriented school (4 NCAA appearances and 3 NIT appearances in the last fourteen seasons).
Brad Brownell – current Wright St. head coach (2006-present) and former UNC-Wilmington head coach (2002-06)
Another young (38 years old) up-and-comer who has had oustanding success in five short years at UNC-Wilmington (2 NCAAs in 4 seasons) and Wright St. (1 NCAA in 1 season).
Roots are in the midwest although he spent four recent years in North Carolina, so he should understand the lay of the land.
Or a Darkhorse Like McKillop?
Whichever direction Wellman chooses to go, he undoubtedly has his work cut out for him. Stay tuned, as we’ll be all over the story if something breaks.