Kansas fans need to get over Roy Williams' departure for North Carolina
Posted: Thursday December 4, 2003 5:40PM; Updated: Wednesday December 10, 2003 9:32AM
Bring out the 'Bag.
But the 'Bag's sleeping.
Well, I guess you better go and wake him up then.
With apologies to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, to say nothing of our loyal readers, the 'Bag is finally back. Which means, of course, that our long national nightmare is over. That's right: You'll now have an alternative to Seth Davis.
The plan for Year Six of the 'Bag is more of the same: Send in your questions, keep 'em smart/interesting/fun, and I'll try and do my part every week for the rest of the season.
Topic A this week is the response to my recent Sports Illustrated story on Roy Williams and his return as coach at North Carolina. Not to steal from the SI Mag 'Bag, but it's safe to say that more than half the letters we got were from Kansas fans who are still bitter about the way Williams left Lawrence last April.
As a native Kansan, I feel like I can say this: Let it go, Jayhawks fans. You have the No. 1 team in the country. You have one of the game's top coaches in Bill Self. And you have arguably the most dedicated fan base in the nation. Yet when SI conducted its 50th Anniversary survey on Kansans' sports tastes last month, Williams came in second (behind the Oakland Raiders' Al Davis) in the Enemy of the State balloting. I'm convinced that 1) Williams would have been No. 1 had the survey been taken last spring, and 2) most of those haters were fans of KU, not Kansas State.
The venom is so copious that poor Nick Collison decided he couldn't even mention Williams by name at his recent jersey retirement, lest a cascade of boos rain down from the Allen Fieldhouse rafters. Memo to the Sunflower State: End the embarrassment. Stop the madness. You have a lot to be thankful for.
There. Lecture over. Let's open the (meager) 'Bag....
I was pretty surprised when last year's "Magic Eight" failed to include the eventual champion (Syracuse) for the first time. What can we expect this year? Will you push back the publication of the Magic Eight until later in the season?-- Shane Hart, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
As some of you may know, every year in January the 'Bag releases its Magic Eight, a list of the eight teams from which we guarantee the national champion will emerge. And for the first time ever last season, our crystal ball failed us. It happens sometimes. But the fact is, last year's Orangemen were an anomaly, the exception to the rule that only eight or so teams can win the national title every year. To prove it, I'll crank out another Magic Eight next month, and this time the guarantee will be ... guaranteed.
Which brings me to the subject of preseason rankings. During last week's Arizona-Florida broadcast on ESPN, Dan Shulman claimed that the rash of upsets in the Top 10 rendered the preseason rankings "meaningless," citing that Syracuse wasn't even ranked to start last season. Bad logic. In fact, what's really meaningless are any games played in November and December. Sure, they're fun to watch, but what do they tell us about March? Nothing. If they were predictive in any way, then Syracuse's season-opening loss to Memphis last year would have meant something, and, as we all know, it didn't.
Preseason rankings aren't meaningless at all. But they're meant for March, not December. And in that regard, SI has a pretty good track record. (Speaking of which, could the Duke Med Center guys who sent me their statistical analysis of SI's preseason rankings a few months ago send them again for next week's 'Bag? I'm afraid they got erased from my mailbox.)
What do you expect to be the biggest NCAA basketball story this year?--Russ Knopp, Waitsburg, Wash.
Well, if SI predicted UConn would win the national title, then it would be the Huskies, I suppose. But that's only if the offcourt turmoil we had this year (see Baylor, Iowa State, Georgia, St. Bonaventure, etc.) doesn't repeat itself. Unfortunately, the bad certainly outweighed the good in the college hoops stories of 2003.
This is just an educated guess, but other big stories/trends this season might include:
-- A mid-major (Gonzaga? Saint Joseph's?) finally reaching the Final Four.
-- The increasing popularity of the secondary break (added this year by teams from Arizona to St. Joe's).
-- The rise of "four-out" offensive sets (see Arizona and Michigan State, among others).
-- The spread of zone defenses, as coaches swallow their pride and realize Syracuse won a national title with one.
-- The elite-level success of underrated teams like Stanford, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State (all Final Four contenders seeking to become "this year's Syracuse.")
-- The struggles of overrated teams like Syracuse, Notre Dame and Oklahoma (all vying for the dubious achievement of being "this year's Alabama.")
Why is Stanford so underrated?--David, Stanford, Calif.
Good question, David. There are a number of factors: 1) Coach Mike Montgomery consistently gets more than expected out of his players but remains thoroughly unassuming, unlike most coaches; 2) The Cardinal plays on the West Coast -- and almost never on ESPN; 3) The Stanford players are all solid -- but few, if any, are highlight-reel-type guys.
In fact, if the Cardinal can keep everyone healthy this year (that means you, Chris Hernandez and Josh Childress), I think it will win the Pac-10 in a dogfight with Arizona. Stanford has enough talent to do it (including underappreciated big guys Rob Little and Justin Davis) and, just as important, a major advantage in experience over Lute Olson's young Wildcats.
Six Random Things
1. Though I still think it's hard to learn anything from games in December, there is one exception: If a team can travel to a hostile environment and shut up a sell-out crowd by blowing out a good team, well, I'd call that a Statement Game. It doesn't happen often, but I saw a trifecta of Statement Games on Wednesday night: Georgia Tech slamming Ohio State 73-53 in Columbus, Duke manhandling Michigan State 72-50 in East Lansing and Gonzaga rocking Washington 86-62 in Seattle. The common thread in all three games: Defense. At a time when most teams are playing rat ball, Georgia Tech, Duke and Gonzaga simply shut down their opponents.
2. The 'Bag's new favorite big man is BYU senior Rafael Araujo, the gigantic 6-foot-11, 280-pound Brazilian who exploded for 31 points and 14 boards in the Cougars' 75-69 win over Boise State on Tuesday. The full-sized center may be a rarity in today's college game, but Araujo is proof positive that the breed isn't entirely extinct.
Hall of Fame coach Pete Newell told me Araujo -- a dynamite shooter who's still working on his defense -- made the best impression of anyone at Newell's annual Big Man Camp last summer in Las Vegas. A tireless worker who arrives at the gym on his own every day at 6 a.m., Araujo was going to be featured in my recent SI story ("The Postmodern Post Man") until we decided to focus on undersized big men. But something tells me we'll be hearing more about him as the season goes on. Just make sure you pronounce his name right: It's HAF-a-el Ar-a-OO-Jo -- or, as his teammates call him, Hoffa.
3. An intriguing tidbit from Arizona junior center Channing Frye, defending himself against his critics:
"I know a lot of people wonder: Is he soft? But if you look, I get the job done. I don't care if people say I'm soft or a West Coast big guy, but that's what I am: somebody who gets up and down the court, blocks shots and gets you some rebounds and points. I like to keep the game simple. It's a waste of energy to battle with someone for five minutes just because I want to prove to everyone that I'm not soft."
4. Speaking of Arizona, Wildcats wonderboy Josh Pastner has to be the only No. 3 assistant coach in the country who has his own ads on local TV.
5. A male player who attended Michael Jordan's camp two summers ago swears to me that UConn guard Diana Taurasi is "the cockiest player in college basketball, men or women." How great is that?
6. Gonzaga forward Ronny Turiaf played for the French national team at last summer's European Championships. So of course I had to ask him: Do the French players give 7-2 teammate Freddy Weis any static for being posterized by Vince Carter at the 2000 Olympics in perhaps the greatest dunk of all time.
"Oh, mannnn," Turiaf said, shaking his head. "[Weis] wasn't [at the Championships] because of an injury to his back, but nobody would have talked to him about it. Because that was crazy. That was the most ridiculous thing ever."
Picks from the 'Bag
Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
In theaters: Bad Santa. Don't take the kids, but this comedy about a foul-mouthed, deadbeat mall Santa Claus (Billy Bob Thornton) made me laugh harder than anything I've seen all year. First-rate stuff from director Terry Zwigoff, the guy who made Crumb and Ghost World.
On CD: The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow. The Portland, Ore.-based group has been compared to The Beach Boys, but I'd argue that's damning them with faint praise. Whatever. Check out this worthy follow-up to The Shins' equally sweet 2001 debut Oh, Inverted World.
Road Trip: Vancouver, B.C. Just got back from a short Thanksgiving trip from the 'Bag's Seattle headquarters to "Vansterdam," as folks have started calling Canada's West Coast gateway. No, the 'Bag and 'Bag Lady didn't take advantage of the liberal enforcement of pot laws -- once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout -- but we did dive headfirst into the thriving restaurant/club scene. Check out Tojo's for some of the best sushi anywhere.
Pans from the 'Bag
Love, Actually. Remarkably, a host of reviewers (including 'Bag favorite Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times) actually gave this bomb positive reviews. Why is this movie so terrible? I could go on forever, but it comes down to a creepy common theme: that the key to male happiness is hooking up with your female underlings at the office. What decade are the makers of this movie living in?
Where are they now?
One of the most popular 'Bag departments over the years has been WATN, in which we've tracked down (or tried to track down) such former college hoops luminaries as Uwe Blab, "Mouse" McFadden, Aminu Timberlake, Richie (The Fixer) Perry, Travis Bice, Alan Ogg, Geert Hammink, Benny Anders, Lorenzo Charles, Fennis Dembo, Antoine Joubert and Dana Kirk.
Feel free to suggest your own WATN subject using the mailbag form at right. But for next week let's find out:
Where in the world is Larry Eustachy?
(In the meantime, please send some probing questions. As you can tell, we could use some.)
See you next week!
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl keeps you up to date with the world of College Basketball on SI.com.