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More 'Bag (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday January 3, 2007 1:30PM; Updated: Wednesday January 3, 2007 3:09PM
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Derrick Low and the Cougars are eager to prove they are the best team in Washington.
Derrick Low and the Cougars are eager to prove they are the best team in Washington.
Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
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At what point should Washington State get some props for being the better Washington team in the Pac-10? Already it has upset Gonzaga and beaten USC (the Huskies failed at both) and scared UCLA when U-Dub wasn't even close. Early days, sure, but Tony Bennett is getting a lot out of a relatively lunch-pail kind of crew and they've bought what he's selling. Is it too early to think that the Cougars might be a tournament team?
 -- James, formerly Pullman, Wash.

One of the most striking elements of the resurgence in West Coast hoops is the shift of a center-of-gravity from the Bay Area to the Pacific Northwest. It's increasingly likely that the state of Washington could get three teams in the NCAAs (U-Dub, Wazzu and Gonzaga), and easily the most surprising of the trio is the Cougars. The Bennett style (whether it's Dick or Tony) is hardly your stereotypical version of high-flying West Coast basketball, but it certainly deserves your respect. We're big fans of Derrick Low and Robbie Cowgill, to say nothing of Bennett the Younger. We'll see what happens in the Pac-10, but Tony's Cougs are just as capable as his dad's teams were of pulling off upsets (even on the road) -- and unlike Dick's teams Tony's appear to have more consistency. The question that's swirling now is whether Bennett is off to such a great start that he might get snapped up by a bigger school (say, Minnesota) before Pullman knows what hit it.

You pointed to Howland as the Builder of the Decade for his work at UCLA and Pittsburgh, but what about the Builders of recent decades past ('90s,'80s, '70s)? I think Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight would be obvious choices for the '80s and '70s, but I have no idea about the '90s. Jim Calhoun came to prominence in then, but he had been at UConn since '86, and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Arizona's Lute Olson had been coaching for decades before the '90s at their respective schools. Any ideas?
 -- Jeff Miller, Washington, D.C.

Great question. You could make a few different cases for Builder of the Decade for the '90s. Calhoun deserves a ton of credit for putting UConn basketball on the map after it was essentially a moribund program, and that project certainly was ongoing through the '90s. Roy Williams deserves consideration, especially when you consider the state of the Kansas program that Larry Brown had left (probation, etc.) when Williams took over in '88. Rick Majerus did tremendous work building the programs at Ball State and Utah, while Nolan Richardson at Arkansas and Jim Harrick at UCLA and Rhode Island merit mention as well.

But if I had to pick one Builder of the Decade for the '90s it would be Rick Pitino at Kentucky. Keep in mind, we include rebuilding projects, too, and the resurgence of Big Blue under Pitino was nothing short of remarkable following the shame of the rules violations that preceded him and the probation that he had to deal with when he took over. Kentucky was a '97 overtime (and a Derek Anderson injury) away from a three-peat, and the Wildcats' two titles in three years was one of the great achievements in college hoops of the past 25 years.

West Virginia has taken some criticism over its weak schedule, but with that impressive win over UConn can the Mountaineers get some love?
 -- Paul, Louisville

Only if you promise not to use the phrase "get some love" ever again. It was a pleasure watching the clinic of quirky, effective basketball that John Beilein's Mountaineers put on against the young Huskies, who were thoroughly befuddled by WVU's 1-3-1 zone and bamboozler offensive schemes. (Didn't they know what was coming?) We'll see if West Virginia can keep it going this week with games at Villanova and against St. John's, but you've got to be impressed with Beilein's ability to rebuild a team so quickly after losing Mike Gansey, Kevin Pittsnogle and Joe Herber. Frank Young has done a nice job as a leader for the 'Eers, and it's clear that Beilein has recruited youngsters that fit his style. They're talented and smart. Can you imagine what Beilein might be able to do if he was at a place where he could land more NBA-ready physical freaks to go along with his cerebral approach? That would be scary, scary, scary. Why a traditional powerhouse program doesn't go after Beilein is beyond me.


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