Innovative coaches are hard to find these days, but here are 11
Posted: Wednesday December 17, 2003 5:02PM; Updated: Thursday December 18, 2003 2:40PM
The best question of the week comes from a noted hoops hotbed:
Who is the most innovative college basketball coach today?--Guan H Tan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
This is a hard one -- but definitely worth answering. When you think about it, how much genuine innovation is left to be done in basketball? There are only so many ways you can play the game. And yet there are a few innovators -- guys who continually experiment with new ideas on the court -- left. You can tell who they are by noticing all the other coaches who copy them.
Before you freak out and send all sorts of angry e-mail, please note that I'm not calling these guys "the best coaches in college basketball" (though some would surely be on that list, too). Rather, I'm giving you my take on the most innovative coaches at this moment.
1. Roy Williams (North Carolina). I'm going to contradict myself (and Williams, for that matter) after I quoted the coach describing himself as a "copier" in Sports Illustrated recently. The fact is, Williams is such an eclectic borrower (from sources as disparate as Dean Smith, Bob Huggins and Jerry Tarkanian) and tweaks what he borrows so much, that he invents a new organic whole. Let's be honest: Williams' secondary break -- which is all the rage in coaching circles these days -- is faster than anything Smith (or even protege Matt Doherty) ever ran in Chapel Hill.
2. Bill Carmody (Northwestern). Though he learned the rudiments of the Princeton offense from Pete Carril, Carmody has added a multitude of variations during the past decade. "Every day we're trying new stuff," he told me last year. "Before practice I'll decide I can afford to waste 25 minutes that day and we'll just try different things that went through your head and woke you up at 3 in the morning."
3. Rick Pitino (Louisville). Pitino might as well have patented the words frenetic and full-court when he re-ordered college basketball in the 1990s. Now he's doing it again with the Cardinals.
4. Mike Krzyzewski (Duke). We talked last week about how Duke has employed the 3-point shot better than anyone in order to spread the floor on offense, creating space for drives, post-ups, kick-outs, etc. Coach K's adjustments following Carlos Boozer's late-season broken foot three years ago are the stuff of legend (and national titles).
5. Bob Knight (Texas Tech). Fine, he may not be innovating so much these days (that's why he's not my No. 1 choice), but the mastermind of the motion offense probably influenced today's game as much as the other 10 coaches on this list combined.
6. Jim Boeheim (Syracuse)/John Chaney (Temple). The Twin Towers of the Two-Three changed the way we look at zone defense -- and took the embarrassment out of using it.
7. Lute Olson (Arizona). The man who sparked the craze for three-guard attacks in 1993-94 has one of the game's most fertile minds.
8. David Arseneault (Grinnell). You've gotta see it to believe it. Arseneault's D-3 Pioneers make those legendary Loyola Marymount teams look like they were running the four-corners offense. Using an attack that emphasizes shooting the ball every 12 seconds, giving up 2-pointers so you can get 3s, and going up to 17 players deep, Grinnell has led all NCAA levels in scoring and 3-point shooting for the past 10 seasons. (This year's Pioneers, we might add, are 5-0 and averaging 133.2 points and 21.6 treys per game.)
9. Tubby Smith (Kentucky). Much as Carmody perfected Carril's Princeton offense, Smith has taken the "ball-line" man-to-man D principles he learned under J.D. Barnett at Virginia Commonwealth from 1979 to '85 and transformed the Wildcats into the nation's nastiest team defense, two years running.
10. Billy Donovan (Florida). Any coach who's willing to mix the "chin series" from the Princeton offense with a go-go running attack (as Donovan did last year) deserves to be on this list. Another prime example of an "innovative copier."
'Bag readers: Feel free to debate these choices with me, but if you do, give me a good reason why I should consider your suggestion.
In your opinion, which are the top five teams that are not in either of the current Top 25 polls, but will make them by the end of the year?--Steven Newton, Knoxville, Tenn.
Keeping in mind that Michigan State squeaked into this week's coaches poll but not the writers poll, I'll choose these five:
1. LSU.Jaime Lloreda is a pillar of strength inside, and coach John Brady's superfrosh (Brandon Bass, Regis Koundjia and Tack Minor) will be plenty seasoned by year's end. Tuesday's win over Utah revealed some of the Tigers' unlimited potential.
2. Providence. Neutral-court thrashing of Illinois last week showed that Tim Welsh's bunch will be (drumroll please) the finest Friars outfit since the Austin Croshere years.
3. Mississippi State.Rick Stansbury's 7-0 crew has big talent inside (Lawrence Roberts) and outside (Timmy Bowers) and complementary players who know their roles.
4. BYU. Brazilian giant Rafael Araujo reigns over a conference that has some of the nation's best full-sized big men (see Colorado State's Matt Nelson and Utah's Andrew Bogut).
5. Oklahoma State. Once again Eddie Sutton has assembled a mix of relative unknowns (led by Tony Allen, Ivan McFarlin, John Lucas and Joey Graham) into a dangerous team.
Last week Bob Hamilton of Brasfield, Ark., asked how many coaches are successful at their alma maters, so we solicited your help. Readers came back with eight responses: Gary Williams (Maryland), Boeheim (Syracuse), Sutton (Oklahoma State), Lou Henson (New Mexico State), Ernie Kent (Oregon), Bobby Lutz (Charlotte), Ralph Willard (Holy Cross) and Greg McDermott (Northern Iowa).
I'm sure there are others, so let me know and I'll pass them along next week. For that matter, we'll even include guys who haven't been very successful at their old stomping grounds, so fire away....
I think your take on Duke is wrong. The Blue Devils are changing their look this year from a run-and-gun, 3-point shooting team to an intense defensive squad with an emphasis on inside strength. It'll be interesting to see if Duke can match up with Texas' power this Saturday. Look for Chris Duhon and Sean Dockery to pressure the ball and make the Longhorns prove they can live without point guard T.J. Ford.--Etan Frankel, New York
Good points, Etan, and I agree that Duke-Texas will be a good barometer of how much strength the Blue Devils really have inside. But I'll split the difference with you about Duke's use of the 3-pointer. It's often helpful to look at the percentage of a team's shot attempts that come from 3-point range. Duke's 3-point emphasis so far this season (.338) is almost identical to last year's (.339), though both are distinct drop-offs from 2001-02 (.378) and 2000-01 (.418). Still, this year's Devils are clearly a 3-point-heavy team, with a rate that is significantly above the national average (.317 for the 65 NCAA teams when I actually took the time to figure it out two years ago).
(Yes, I can be a stat geek too.)
Two weeks ago, you said Oklahoma was an overrated team. How could the Sooners be overrated after the tenacious performance they put on while beating a very good Michigan State team on Dec. 6?--Josh, Topeka, Kan.
Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
Well, if you go by the past two weeks then clearly Michigan State should have been on the overrated list instead of Oklahoma. But if you're looking at the long term, as I was, then a No. 8 ranking still strikes me as too high for the Sooners. Granted, they've beaten two good Big Ten teams in the Spartans and Purdue, and Kelvin Sampson certainly deserves plenty of respect for the program he has built in Norman. Still, this is a team that lost three top guards (Hollis Price, Quannas White and Ebi Ere); is relying heavily on Kevin Bookout, who may be facing shoulder surgery after the season; and is starting two impressive freshmen in the backcourt (Drew Lavender and Lawrence McKenzie) who could easily pull a Matt Walsh/Anthony Roberson and crash in the latter half of their rookie campaigns.
Thanks to Chris in Lexington, Ky., for writing to inform us that the enmity of Kentucky fans toward Rick Pitino hasn't ebbed as much as the 'Bag had thought. Writes Chris the Hater:
"Please. The dislike (to put it very mildly) of Rick Pitino has not died down in the least. The only problem is that the Wildcats played at Freedom Hall last year. This season's game between Kentucky and Louisville will be played in Rupp Arena, which will be just as rowdy as it was two years ago, when the rivals met. If you asked UK fans, they would rather lose to Indiana and North Carolina than lose to Louisville at Rupp."
TIME FOR A STATION BREAK....
Featuring the latest picks from the 'Bag:
In theaters: 21 Grams. In the tradition of Memento and Pulp Fiction, Mexican director Alejandro González Ińárritu masterfully rearranges the timeline of this thriller starring Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts. (If you like this one, check out the director's previous movie, Amores Perros, which is just as good.)
On CD: Impressed by Panjabi MC's collaboration with Jay-Z in Beware of the Boys, the 'Bag Lady and I stocked up on bhangra during our recent trip to London's sprawling South Asian hood of Southall. If you're up for thumping hip-hop with a twist, you can't go wrong with this lineup: Panjabi MC (Legalised), Jassi Sidhu (Reality Check), B21 (By Public Demand) and XLNC (Forever). Try it. You'll thank me.
BACK TO THE 'BAG
Do you know where Ryan Sidney ended up after leaving Boston College?--Matt Eicher, Duncannon, Pa.
As of now Sidney hasn't officially left the Boston College program, which announced unexpectedly in August that the guard would be taking the year off for personal reasons. Sidney, whose production had plateaued at slightly less than 14 points per game last season, told local papers he hoped to return next year for his senior season.
Finally, reader Stephen Lorimer of London checks in with an answer to last week's question about our Armed Forces' access to college hoops:
Ten seasons after his momentous rainbow sank Duke in the 1994 national title game, former Arkansas Razorback Scotty Thurman is still plying the hoop trade in Lebanon. He's the star player, in fact, for the aptly named club Champville, the top team in the Lebanese pro league. Alas, Scotty didn't pull the trigger on our interview in time for press (he seemed to worry that the 'Bag would be focusing on his overhasty decision to turn pro), but there's no denying that the 40 Minutes of Hell-Raiser has had a colorful 10-year career, including stops in Italy and Greece. (Thurman still keeps a house in Little Rock.) Best of luck to the guy who used to be President Clinton's favorite player -- and thanks to three readers for pinpointing him: Ken Mattingly of Mt. Vernon, Ky.; Casey Vannoy of Little Rock, Ark.; and Thomas Brown of San Antonio.
Next week's WATN comes from Seth Hornbuckle of Rock Island, Ill.:
Where in the world is Yinka Dare?
See you next week.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl covers college basketball for the magazine. His story about the Princeton offense, which ran in the Feb. 17, 2003 issue of SI, was awarded first prize in the magazine-length feature category of the 2003 U.S. Basketball Writers Association writing contest.