Posted: Wednesday January 24, 2007 3:21PM; Updated: Wednesday January 24, 2007 5:01PM
Opening The Bag...
Florida's Billy Donovan is a great young coach who might find success at the NBA level.
Richard C. Lewis/WireImage
Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
The Missouri Valley Conference has six legitimate teams that could compete for the league title, and none of them have come forward to take the lead. The conference has the look of the Big East, a dog-eat-dog league. Do you think it is time to consider this conference not as a mid-major but in the same light with the other power conferences? Also, do you think they deserve five or six bids for the NCAA tournament? -- Brett Goodsman, Orlando, Fla.
I view the MVC as (yet again) one of the nation's premier basketball conferences. This year's league race is hyper-competitive, with Southern Illinois taking over the lead on Tuesday by beating Northern Iowa to move to 7-3, with UNI and Creighton at 6-3, Missouri State and Bradley at 5-4 and the league's other NCAA hopeful, Wichita State, at a surprising 3-6.
Some critics have tried to say all the Valley blood-letting shows the league isn't worthy of being a major conference, but I take the opposite approach, arguing that it's indicative of the top-to-bottom strength in the league. Still, if you ask me how many NCAA bids the Valley will get I'd say most likely four and maybe five. Wichita State is in real trouble thanks to its losing skid, and Bradley might have a hard time getting in too.
Which traditional power that's had some early struggles will rebound and make the deepest run in the tourney: UConn, Michigan State, Indiana, Kentucky, Duke, Texas, Maryland, Georgetown or Villanova? -- Devin Gordon, New York City
If I had to pick two teams from this list, I'd say Indiana and Duke. Despite the Hoosiers' road loss at Illinois, I still think Kelvin Sampson's crew is moving in the right direction and will challenge for second place in the Big Ten. I also think Duke is going to work through some of its recent kinks, put together a nice run in the ACC and peak at the right time in March. Keep an eye on freshman guard Jon Scheyer, who's really finding his scoring form of late.
As a New Yorker who's tried in vain to be a Knicks fan for years, I'm waiting for Isiah Thomas to get fired so we can get on with our misery. But if the Knicks chose a college coach to take over the reins and rebuild a young team, who would be the best guy for the job among the current crop of college coaches? Or, more broadly, leaving out the Bobby Knights and Coach K's -- the college lifers -- which college coaches would fare best in a jump to the NBA? -- Devin Gordon, New York City
My general suggestion would be that no college coach try and make the leap to the NBA, which has caused more than its share of misery for such aspirants. But you and I both know it'll keep happening. Just so you know, I'm not sharing any inside info here, just guys who I think might draw interest and have some as well.
In the case of the Knicks, one coach who I think could be great is Florida's Billy Donovan, who understands the pro game and might not make some of the same mistakes his mentor, Rick Pitino, made with the Celtics. Likewise, I've always kept note of college coaches who have served as assistants on U.S. teams that include pros. (It's one reason why I wasn't surprised when Mike Montgomery left the college ranks a few years ago.) Those coaches would include North Carolina's Roy Williams, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Kentucky's Tubby Smith.
Ohio State's Thad Matta and Marquette's Tom Crean are successful young high-energy guys who aren't control freaks and might be able to adjust to the NBA's star system. And then there are the successful college coaches who've already coached in the NBA, usually with mixed or poor results (Air Force's Jeff Bzdelik, Memphis' John Calipari, UNLV's Lon Kruger, USC's Tim Floyd) or have lots of NBA contacts (New Mexico State's Reggie Theus).