The country's top gun
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl answers your college basketball questions every Wednesday. Click here to send him a question.
SEATTLE -- Whenever he plays, I can't wait to see the box score the next day. Whenever he shoots, which is very, very often, I can safely expect that it won't go in. But you know another one's coming, just as surely as your next breath, and every so often he'll make a few. Sometimes he'll even score 43 points in a game (after taking 36 shots!), leaving you exhilarated, spent and just a little bit scared.
I'm talking about Missouri's Clarence Gilbert, the clear and obvious choice as -- drum roll, please -- the nation's most shameless gunner.
It's not even close, really. On Tuesday night, pathetic hoops addict that I am, I got on the Internet and figured it out for myself. My goal was to find all the players who 1) have taken at least 200 field goal attempts this season; 2) have shot worse than 40 percent from the field; and 3) belong to a team in one of the six power conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 or SEC), the better to eliminate the one-man teams (Centenary, St. Francis, Niagara) whose go-to guys have nothing more important to do than try and lead the country in scoring. (Yes, SirValiant Brown, we're talking about you here, too.)
Guess what? Only one player fit all three categories, and he qualified with plenty of room to spare. Take a bow, Mr. Gilbert, the proud owner of 265 field goal attempts and a woeful 35.8 percent shooting clip after Tuesday's 3-for-11 swoon in a loss to Kansas State.
O gunner of unlimited chutzpah, what can we say? "Keep shooting like a train wreck. I can't look away."
"Congratulations," Clarence! Now on to the 'Bag ...
Since you left Tennessee out of your Magic Eight teams guaranteed to produce the national champion, do you think the Vols could pull it off if Tony Harris doesn't disappear in the tournament as he has in the past two seasons?
Well, no. That's why I didn't list Tennessee in the Magic Eight. With the Volunteers it all comes down to mental toughness, and Harris & Co. have proven that they simply don't have enough of it. Witness Tuesday night's effort at Kentucky. As I've said before, you learn something about a team when it lets itself get blown out (as Tennessee did against Virginia). That's also why I still have reservations about Kansas, even though the Jayhawks still have only one loss. And it's why you have to be dubious of Virginia after last weekend's debacle at Duke.
In light of Wake Forest's quantum leap to the top 10 after winning the NIT last year, NIT runner-up Notre Dame has seemed like kind of a disappointment. I think the Irish will still get into the field of 64, but how far could they go? Secondly, what are the chances of Troy Murphy staying?
Rocket, when I saw Notre Dame beat Cincinnati early in the season, I thought the Irish were a legit top-10 team. But it has turned out that Murphy just doesn't have the support he needs to make this team a contender. Though Ryan Humphrey hasn't been a flop, he hasn't performed as well as I had expected, and his hope of turning into a perimeter player hasn't materialized. Nor are the Irish a good free-throw-shooting team, and they also struggle on defense. That may be a reflection of trying to play man-to-man after playing zone almost exclusively over the last two years. I, too, see them making the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years, but unless they can find some more balance and a stickier defense, I don't see them surviving the first weekend.
That, of course, could have an influence on Murphy's decision. My gut says he'll leave, but if Notre Dame doesn't make the tournament (or goes one and done) the chances of Murphy staying will surely increase. Murphy hasn't committed either way, of course, but my sense after doing a Sports Illustrated feature on him last month is that he's probably outta there.
WE GOT PLENTY of response to my rankings last week of the coaches who get the most and the least out of their talent. So let's dive in ...
Maybe I'm missing something here, but Gary Williams as No. 3 on getting the least from his players? Say what? I looked back at all the McDonald's All-Americans between 1990-2000. I found that ACC teams got:
Duke -- 15
Gary Williams gets blasted in the media for not recruiting well EVERY YEAR (compared to Duke and Carolina), yet each year he hasn't been on probation (because of the Bob Wade era that preceded him) he has fielded a top-flight ACC team. Sure, the Terps haven't performed real well in March, but most years: 1) The team does better than preseason prediction; and 2) Players ignored by top-flight schools (Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Joe Smith, Laron Profit and Obinna Ekezie) become all-league performers. Can you elaborate on why Williams made that list?
Sure, I'll elaborate. For starters, I think Williams is actually a pretty good recruiter. In fact, you have to be a good talent hound to make my list of coaches who get the least out of their talent. (I'd rather be Gary Williams than, say, Bruiser Flint, who doesn't even get the talent in the first place.) Don't put too much stock in McDonald's All-Americans, either. I have some big questions about the naming process for those awards, and I'm forever running into college stars who got snubbed by Mickey D's (Troy Murphy and Charlie Bell, to name just two). Think about it: The Terrapins' Danny Miller was a McD's A-A from New Jersey -- and Murphy wasn't!
Finally, while Terence Morris alone is enough to put Williams on the top-five list, the whole Maryland team has underperformed mightily this year. And while one or two March flops may be isolated cases, repeatedly fizzling out in the tournament is another story.
Nice research, though.
How can you leave Gene Keady off your list of the top five coaches who get the most out of their talent? How many Big Ten titles has he won, with how many players who never made the NBA?
Good point, Brian. Keady would have been 5A on my list. How much mileage did that guy get out of Brian Cardinal, anyway? At the same time, while I can't recall any of the coaches on my top-five list ever underachieving mightily, I can say that about Keady's 1987-88 Boilermakers (a No. 1 seed, upset by Kansas State in the round of 16). What's more, after all this time Keady still hasn't reached the Final Four.
ASIDE FROM ALL the Gary Williams and Gene Keady supporters, I heard the most from folks who felt strongly (for better or worse) about Jim Boeheim. Tom Davenport in Santa Rosa, Calif., writes, "Don't you think Jim Boeheim should be on your list of underachieving coaches?" while James Kroeger of Bedford, N.Y., wonders, "How could you not include Jim Boeheim in your list of coaches who get the most out of their talent?"
Boeheim's pretty up and down. Who can deny that Syracuse's 1996 NCAA finalists overachieved? Last year's Orangemen surprised folks early, then showed they were a fraud later in the season. Will this year's 'Cuse do the same? I think so, simply because I haven't been too impressed with the non-conference wins the Orange has picked up. (Only Missouri has turned out to be a good team, and Syracuse caught the young Tigers early.)
In any case, as the contradictory questions and the evidence show, it's hard to put Boeheim in either category when he could fit in both.
SEVERAL PEOPLE RESPONDED to my search for theories about why there were fewer "Cinderella" NCAA champions in the 1990s than in the 1980s. The most detailed treatise came from Jon Hanna of Tulsa, Okla. I'll respond to each of the three prongs in Jon's argument:
1) The 3-point shot. Designing your offense around the 3-point shot can help bad teams become average and average teams become good, but it can't help good teams become great.
I dunno. While I understand that it's hard to hit 3s for six straight games in the tournament, Villanova '85 would have beaten Georgetown by a healthier margin had Harold Jensen's moonball two-pointers counted as treys.
2) The shot clock. The ability for a lesser team to slow the game down is not there. The games aren't any more high scoring with the shot clock, but the lesser team generally can't control tempo if it wants to.
A better argument. Would Villanova have beaten Georgetown with a shot clock? I doubt it.
3) The growth of the NCAA tournament and the inability of lesser programs to recruit name players. In the 1980-1981 season, Wichita State (an NCAA regional finalist) had the following players on its roster:
Aubrey Sherrod (fr.) -- McDonald's All-American
Three McDonald's All-Americans and four long-term NBA players on one Missouri Valley Conference team? About the only place that happens these days is at Duke, UNC or Michigan State. The rich are getting richer because of the high profile of the NCAA, television exposure and the perceived quick path to the NBA.
I buy this, too, to a large extent. Television plays a much bigger role now than it did 20 years ago, and since we always see the same teams on TV night after night, of course you'll see those top-tier schools hoarding more and more talent. Certainly Wichita State could have won a title in 1981, and now it can't. At the same time, however, it's worth pointing out that Cinderella NCAA champions aren't anywhere near the same thing as first-round Cinderellas. N.C. State '83, Villanova '85, Louisville '86 and Kansas '88 (and, for that matter, Arizona '97) all played in top conferences and had tough schedules.
AMINU TIMBERLAKE FOUND! (FOR REAL THIS TIME)
I finally hooked up on Monday with WATN subject Aminu Timberlake, the former Kentucky player best known for being stepped on by Duke's Christian Laettner (remember Laettner's big shoe on Timberlake's chest?) in what some folks call the best college hoops game ever.
Here's the deal: After Kentucky, Timberlake transferred to Southern Illinois, then went on to play for five different pro teams in New Zealand, Australia and South Korea before returning home to Chicago eight months ago and taking a job as an advertising consultant for Ameritech Publishing. Timberlake and his wife of five years, Lisa, are expecting their first child (a girl) in May.
Of course, I also wanted to get Timberlake's skinny (pun intended, Aminu fans) on the Laettner incident 10 years later. Sure, Laettner got a technical, but shouldn't he have been ejected? And wouldn't that have altered the course of hoops history?
"Maybe he should've gotten tossed," Timberlake said, laughing, "but I can't change history. To me, it always looked worse than it really was. But you know what's funny? I'm still good friends with [former Laettner teammate] Marty Clark. We play in pickup games all the time. Our teams played each other recently in the championship of the city league here, and before the game Marty said, 'Let's make this the Duke-Kentucky game all over again.'"
No, it wasn't a classic, and no, Clark didn't ask Timberlake to lay down and recreate the foot-on-chest scene. (Aminu was playfully mum on the result, too, Kentucky fans.) One thing's clear, though: Chicago is ground zero for WATN sightings. In addition to his regular games against Clark, Timberlake said he played last week with Ronnie Lester (Iowa), David Booth (DePaul) and one of my all-time favorites, Dallas Comegys (DePaul).
Given our Timberlake redux, we'll let our WATN roll over for next week. Where in the world is Cleveland State's Mouse McFadden?
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