Fix-it ideas for the NCAA tournament, more (cont.)
Did you read the series in The Washington Post about Gary Williams and Maryland? Should I have newfound admiration for him? What about his leeriness toward those head coaches that befriend shady AAU coaches?
George is referring to an extensive three-part series that the Washington Post published last week. If you haven't read it, I strongly recommend it. My foremost reaction is that this series, authored by Steve Yanda and Eric Prisbell, is precisely why we cannot afford to let newspapers die. The article were exhaustively reported and presented in a responsible, balanced way. It was sports journalism as its best.
As for the content, I must say I had many mixed reactions. I was surprised to learn that Maryland's performance since the 2002 championship (just one Sweet 16 and on track to miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years) is the worst for a team following a championship over the last 18 years. This is a bottom-line business, and as Williams candidly admitted in the series, he has not met this particular bottom-line responsibility.
On the other hand, I hope George does have newfound admiration for Williams' unwillingness to get down and dirty when it comes to recruiting. I'm not just talking about illegal stuff like paying players outright. I'm also talking about the pseudo-legal stuff like hiring a coach/trainer/uncle to be your assistant coach, paying AAU coaches to speak at your basketball camp and scheduling exhibition games against teams run by these AAU coaches. (That's how Williams famously lost Rudy Gay to UConn, which is why it's now against NCAA rules.) The Post series spotlighted many mistakes and near-misses Williams has suffered in recruiting, but that could apply to any coach in America. (You want to know why Duke has no inside presence? Because Patrick Patterson went to Kentucky and Greg Monroe went to Georgetown.) As I've said many times before, Williams has never recruited highly rated high schoolers to College Park, yet he has built a résumé that is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.
And yet ... on the other-other hand, I don't like Williams' insinuation that the only way to succeed in college basketball is to leave your integrity at the door. There are plenty of head coaches out there doing things the right way, just as there are plenty of summer and AAU coaches who are honorable and have their players' best interest at heart. And while the rise of the influence of these middlemen dates back longer than Williams indicated (he said it started about five years ago, but it's more like 15), the reality is, these people are in charge now. A college coach has no choice but to communicate with them on some direct level. Williams overtly refuses to do so, and it has hurt the program.
So Williams has a choice to make: Does he change his ways -- ever so slightly, without sacrificing his principles -- to accommodate the new reality? Or does he decide he doesn't want to play the game and walk away on his own terms, much like Eddie Fogler did when he left South Carolina? Williams is a great, great coach, and he has earned the right to make that choice. I just hope he can turn this thing around before someone makes it for him.
I was interested to hear your reaction to Jim Calhoun's postgame press conference after the UConn-Pitt game. Do you think it was him shamelessly trying to influence how the refs call the game the next time these two teams play? Seems to me it speaks volumes about Calhoun that he'd revert to such a cheap and classless ploy when his team is already one of the most talented in the country.
I was standing in the back of the room during Calhoun's rant, so my primary reaction was to bite my lip to keep from cracking up. I had this vision of me busting out laughing and Calhoun charging me the way John Cheney once charged at John Calipari. It is no secret that Calhoun is, shall we say, not renowned for showing excessive grace in the face of a difficult loss. (His blow-by of Gonzaga coach Mark Few during the postgame handshake following the Zags' overtime win over UConn in Boston two years ago is a classic.) So I was more amused than surprised to hear Calhoun go off on the officiating the way he did on Monday night.
Still, Calhoun's tirade was clearly inappropriate and more than a little unfair. Yes, it was a physical game, but it's hard to argue either team was granted an advantage. After all, Calhoun's own Huskies have built their success this season around the brute inside muscle provided by Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. There's no doubt the whistle Mike Kitts blew to give Thabeet his fourth foul was a bad call, but Thabeet had been largely ineffective in the game to that point. If that call hadn't been made, he could have very well committed his fourth soon after. That call was a big play, but it did not decide the game.
It may be granting Calhoun a little too much credit to say he was making a calculated move to influence the way the game would be called next time around. I tend to think he was blowing off steam (and you have to at least give him credit for being honest). But you can be sure there were plenty of follow-up conversations between Calhoun and the league office, just as I'm sure there will be plenty more before the next game between these two teams. I'd caution Calhoun to be careful what he wishes for, however. If the next UConn-Pitt game is called much tighter, more than a few of those calls will go against the Huskies.
Why no love for Conference USA? C-USA is ranked ninth in the RPI and is a few hundredths of a point below the A-10. You say Memphis is benefiting from playing in a weak conference, but what about Xavier? Memphis has three games left against the better teams in the league -- Tulsa, UAB and UTEP. I wouldn't discount two of those teams knocking off the Tigers.
First of all, Javier, if you want me to say it, I will: Xavier benefits from playing in a weak conference, too. I am frankly amazed at how down the Atlantic 10 has been for several years now. There are a lot of schools in that league with both recent and traditional success, but outside of Xavier and Dayton, no team is positioned to get an at-large bid.
That said, I do think Memphis is looking like a team ready to make yet another deep run in the NCAA tournament. My point was, most people seem to believe playing in a weak league is poor preparation for the tournament, but I think it allows Memphis to go into March fresher and more confident than it otherwise would. And while I would never condone gambling in this space, I would take any odds you want to give me that Memphis won't lose two of those games.
You wrote: 'Incidentally, you think NC State fans are suffering from seller's remorse for running Herb Sendek out of Raleigh?' Nope, he wouldn't be doing this well in the ACC. That's why he quit.
I'm sorry to undercut Raymond's argument with actual facts, but before Sendek took the Arizona State job in the spring of 2006, Sendek had taken the Wolfpack to five-consecutive NCAA tournaments, which tied a school record. That included an upset of defending champ UConn in 2005 and an appearance in the Sweet 16. (No, he never went deeper than that, but neither has Jamie Dixon.) On the other hand, Sidney Lowe looks like he's going to miss out on the NCAA tournament for the third-straight year. I wish Sidney all the best, but if that is your idea of improvement, Raymond, then best of luck my friend.
Love the "Skip Prosser Classic" thought, but I feel a little left out. How about two more teams? Skip took my alma mater, Loyola (Md.), to its first and last NCAA tournament. And for a fourth team, how about the high school where Skip got started? That would be fair competition for my lowly Greyhounds.
Wow, hatin' on your own alma mater, Kevin? That's harsh. I love the idea of making the Skip Prosser Classic into something worthy of its eponym. A doubleheader involving a high school game is definitely something Skip would have appreciated. I'd also like to see some sort of charitable effort tied in as well. (Much like the Maggie Dixon Classic, named for the former Army women's coach, which raises money for the CARE foundation.) Here's a thought: How about asking every fan who comes to the games to bring used books that can be donated to underprivileged kids? When I think about Skip, I don't just think about a guy who loved to coach, I think about a guy who loved to read.
Seth Davis' book, When March Went Mad: Magic, Bird and the Game That Transformed Basketball, will be published by Times Books in March, 2009. Click here to preorder a copy.