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Complete Onions Archive

Weekly College Basketball Review

Adam Glatczak writes the "Wednesday Onions" column for CollegeHoopsnet.com.   Visit the archive, and bookmark the "Wednesday Onions" homepage to follow the action each week!

August 12th, 2004  





It’s been a rather quiet college basketball offseason-at least it had been until the recent fiasco at LaSalle (ugh)-but that’s been a good thing after the embarrassments and conference poaching from last summer. If only college football didn’t do such a bang-up job of picking up the slack. Welcome to the University of Miami, Mr. Williams…


-Touching on some old news now: we won’t go overboard throwing bouquets at Mike Krzyzewski for staying at Duke and rejecting the NBA. We’ll leave that to ESPN. Besides, how hard of a decision can it really be to choose between coaching Shavlik Randolph or Kobe (I Just Trust Myself More) Bryant? Still, when you think about the particulars in this-about $10 million dollars a year, possible part-ownership of the team-you have to admit it says something about Coach K that he would turn that down. You can probably count the number of college coaches who would’ve rejected such a pay increase on about two hands.


-A lot of people wanted to see Krzyzewski go to the NBA, just to see what life was like without his pick of the McDonald’s All-America litter every year. What many appear to forget is that Coach K was once known for doing more with less. Even his first NCAA championship team in 1991 was regarded more for the sum of its parts than its whole, even with Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill. In his first 10-15 years at the school, Krzyzewski routinely took very good players and made them into a great team, much like Lute Olsen still does at Arizona. Duke has only really received its national icon status in the past five years, and even that’s happened as much because of ESPN’s hype as anything else. While picking on Duke has evolved into a cool thing to do, though, (and pretty much everyone not a fan is sick and tired of hearing about the Blue Devils) it shouldn’t be forgotten that Coach K can do a little coaching, too. He would likely be just fine if he wasn’t getting the primest of the prime recruits.


-However, we’re not sure if we have much sympathy for Coach K or any other coach going forth who recruits high schoolers who indicate they’re looking at going to the NBA. The frequency with which the top high school players are skipping college and going pro has become so high that colleges could save a lot of time and headache by not even wasting their time chasing these guys. It’s been widely reported that one reason for Krzyzewski’s flirtation with the Lakers has been the high schoolers going pro, but there’s a simple fix for college coaches who don’t like this: don’t recruit them. Programs like Gonzaga, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh are proving you can be a consistent national contender without recruiting the rent-a-players. Instead of trying to always take the easiest way out and just recruit the best athletes, it’s time for coaches to start getting players who want to be in college and want to improve.


-Fifth year of eligibility for players…competition-wise, it’s likely a wash. The top programs still wouldn’t keep the NBA wannabees around any longer, but with no 5/8 rule now they can just keep bringing in more players. Some believe smaller schools who traditionally have more seniors will gain an advantage, but whatever advantage there was before was likely wiped out when the 5/8 rule was tossed.


Most likely the effect on athletes (the effect that should matter the most, by the way) is their process of getting out of school with a diploma is just dragged out even further. Coaches aren’t going to be reducing the demands on players during the season, meaning guys will continue to take the minimum classes allowed and will continue to flunk classes while the games are going on. A fifth year of play only prolongs this process, maybe gets them to within 14 credits of a degree when they’re done playing as opposed to 26. Again, the real way to improve graduation rates and education is to reduce the demands on them during season. While there are always exceptions with students switching majors, studying abroad, etc., there’s still really no reason the majority of college students-including athletes-shouldn’t be able to get out of school in 4 or 4 ˝ years. If basketball is taking up so much time during the season that it’s hurting grad rates, take a guess at what maybe should be getting reduced in the schedule.


Scary part about this is the coaches are proposing it, which tells you they think this will help them out. They wouldn’t be suggesting it if they didn’t. The scariest part, though, is that Myles Brand goes along with them and doesn’t even seem to be contemplating the possible negatives. So we’re going to say no, no, no. No. If you do it, it has to be done for every single other NCAA sport out there.


-One other thought: While the coaches are way behind this plan, it could just turn out to be another inconvenience to them. There’s no guarantee that players who play four years are even going to want to play a fifth. While the coach will no doubt advise them to do so, there’s no way he can force it. If a player has graduated after four years, maybe he wants to get to the pros or onto a job and doesn’t want to be stuck in college another year. Even if he hasn’t graduated, there’s nothing prohibiting him from leaving. The rule could just be creating yet another roster uncertainty, and we know coaches are already plum sick of that.


-We’re guessing Thad Matta is not one of the college coaches who would’ve turned down the Lakers’ money. By most accounts it sounds like Matta is supposed to be one of the better guys out there, but he needs to learn how to and how not to make a break. In leaving both Butler and Xavier, he’s handled the situations about as bad as humanly possible.


-No need to dwell on the lack of college players in the NBA Draft too much if you’re a fan foremost of college basketball. College basketball is still much different from the pro game, and with average players getting $40 million contracts and scrawny high schoolers occupying so much roster space, NBA success shouldn’t be seen as the ultimate judge on whether a guy can play. It still has to be said, though, that when a Sebastian Telfair gets selected in the draft seven spots ahead of someone at his position who is only the freaking reigning college player of the year, it’s the NBA’s loss. How much more does a college senior have to prove? The more appropriate question is how much more does he have to NOT prove?


-It’s just a good thing college basketball coaches don’t make all of their recruiting decisions based on “upside.” If they did, we’d probably never ever even heard of guys like Nelson, Bobby Hurley or almost any other point guard under 6-4.


-One of the most uncertain offseason situations has been and still is going on at Illinois-Chicago. UIC looked to have high expectations this year provided former Prop 48s Cedrick Banks, Martell Bailey and Armond Williams all graduated and received back their fourth years of eligibility as hoped for. While there is no official word yet, the tremors coming out of that area suggest it’s unlikely two of the three will be back. Reportedly Bailey and Williams are appealing to the NCAA. It seems Banks will make it, and being the best of the three players he should help keep UIC in the thick of the Horizon League hunt, but the Flames won’t be the prohibitive favorites they would have been if all three returned.


-Much like so many scandals nowadays, where it seems the truth never will come out, it’s anyone’s guess who’s lying and who’s not in the Ohio State-Slobodan Savovic saga. Here’s a thought, though: why is it every time a teacher, booster, fan or otherwise makes allegations against a program, especially one as big as OSU, that person is automatically labeled a gold-digger and is depicted to be one step from an insane asylum? It happened with the teacher who spoke out about Maurice Clarett not taking exams at OSU; in the past, it happened with the teachers who went public about academic concerns at Tennessee, Minnesota and Georgia, to name a few, and it’s happening now with Katherine Salyers. Not saying Salyers can’t be someone with an axe to grind, but the more schools use this defense the less believable it becomes. It’s hard to fathom that every time someone levels allegations against a university or college that their mental health is questionable.


-Another example of 1) why fans shouldn’t be making plans around their teams’ schedules until November at the earliest and 2) the continuing plight in scheduling for schools dealing from non-power positions. Oklahoma State looked awful nice (and gutsy) a few years when it agreed to a 2-for-1 deal to play Pepperdine, a deal that included a game last year and called for a return to Malibu this year. In the two teams’ meeting last year the Cowboys had one of their closest calls all season, needing two free throws in the final 2.5 seconds to save an 84-82 home win over a Pepperdine team that finished 15-15. The Cowboys were scheduled to make a visit to the Waves’ Firestone Fieldhouse this year but-you guessed it-OSU has wiggled its way out of the game. The word from Stillwater is that it has to get out of the game for an ESPN date and that the game is just being put off for a year; make what you want of that. Even if it is played next year, though, Pepperdine doesn’t look to be half the team it is this year, when five seniors should have the Waves near the top of the WCC.


-Any scheduling programmers wanting to look smart? Put together a game between Washington and East Tennessee State and let 5-9 mini-guards Nate Robinson and Tim Smith go at it. The Huskies’ Robinson is quite possibly one of the five most exciting players to watch in the country, and the Buccaneers’ Smith is unquestionably on that list. Match these two fast-paced squads with the superfly guards, give the game a little promotion, and laugh all the way to the bank because not a single person who watches will be disappointed.


-While we’re at it, here are some other games we’d love to see this year. Almost all of the fun of November and December has been stripped away thanks to the NCAA’s still-ridiculous 2-in-4 rule as well as the complete refusal of top teams to take any kinds of chances during these months. The ACC/Big 10 Challenge or a round-robin in December including Illinois, Memphis, Missouri and Florida might look good to TV programmers, but are the games interesting? Not when you’re fed the same kind of games all January and February in conference play. The best one can do at this point is dream of “what-ifs”:


Washington-UAB. Last year, the Huskies and Blazers put on one of the most entertaining complete NCAA Tournament games in years. UAB is the closest thing we have to the old Oklahoma, Loyola Marymount, UNLV or Arkansas teams.

Maryland at Texas-El Paso. Few games summed up the balance in last year’s tourney field better than this one. The Terrapins by three, but you’d have to make the Miners a favorite if it were played in El Paso. It’s not a slam-dunk that Maryland would win at the Comcast Center, either.

Princeton-Air Force. Last year, one of these teams ran the so-called Princeton offense better than anyone in the country, and it wasn’t the team you think. There’s also the storyline of AFA coach Joe Scott taking over the Tigers.

Ohio State-Xavier. At Xavier. You only need to see one Xavier-Cincinnati game to see how riled up fans in Cincy can get. Musketeer fans might have Thad Matta weeping by the end of this one.

Kansas at Pacific, Wake Forest at Manhattan, Wisconsin at Richmond, etc. All of these games and many others similar should take place and in the NCAA Tournament, so the teams benefiting from home court advantage in the NCAAs one year get faced with the exact same not-so-neutral circumstances their opponents were up against.

Liberty-St. Peter’s. Two of the most unheralded and underrated backcourts in the country, at least for now. Both have a chance to make a little national noise. David Dees and Larry Blair are super sophomores who should carry the Flames for the next three years, while Keydren Clark and Shane Nichols are short (less than 12 ft. tall combined) but productive-37.3 points per game combined. And Nichols was just a freshman last year.

Montana, DePaul, Iona and Florida State all in the same tournament. The Pat Kennedy Leap Frog Invitational, featuring his four previous stops. Winner can play Kennedy’s current school, Towson.

Missouri at Belmont. When Billy Tubbs coached at Oklahoma and his protégé Mike Newell was having big success in the late 80s at Arkansas-Little Rock, Tubbs said he’d play Newell’s Trojans but would never travel to Little Rock until the Trojans could win one at OU’s Lloyd Noble Center. Under those terms, it would be time for the Tigers to make a road trip to Belmont’s sparkling new Curb Events Center.

Georgia State-Georgia Tech. The Panthers may not be as good this year as last, when they won 20 games and won at Auburn (yet were just fourth in the Atlantic Sun), but this is a game that should take place every year. We could come up with about 100 in-state games similar to this that should be played every year but aren’t, but in this case both teams tend to be pretty athletic and fun to watch, and it’s not like travel costs are an issue.


-The postseason NIT has a reputation for being a springboard for the next season for many of its final teams left standing. This year will be a good test for that, as at least three of the four semifinalists from last year can come into 2004-05 with high expectations. Optimism is high that Michigan can be a top 25 team, and it might be tempting to put the Wolverines in if the Big 10 weren’t so bad last year and if the Go Blue didn’t have such a schizophrenic recent past. NCAA contention is expected from Rutgers, although Big East teams won’t have games with Virginia Tech and Miami to pad their win totals anymore. Still, the Big East tends to produce one or two surprise teams every year. Also, Iowa State won’t get quite as much hype in the Big 12, but the Cyclones have a nice backcourt with Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock as well as a habit of coming out of nowhere when not expected. The only team that initially doesn’t look like an NCAA threat from here, at least right now, is Nike University, er, Oregon. Malik Hairston may think he’s the next Carmelo Anthony, but he’ll probably look more like Leon Powe. The Ducks are missing far and away their best player from last year (Luke Jackson), and unless a lot of players were deferring to him, Oregon looks like a team with a lot of role players and destined for the NIT. But at least they still have McArthur Court.


-Last month it was Syracuse changing its nickname, even if it’ll never be acknowledged here. (Sorry, Nike, SU is STILL the Orangemen) This month it’s SE Missouri State changing from Indians to the Red Wolves. The Indians-as-nicknames dispute is sort of like discussing politics or abortion, so we won’t go there. We do think, though, that some people won’t be happy until every single school in the country is nicknamed after a colored fierce animal (even if that animal doesn’t exist) and every single logo has been designed by either Nike or some graphics agency in New York.


-Congratulations to Cal State-Fullerton winning the College World Series. Good to see there’s a sport some schools still can’t quite buy, though they’re trying. Hilarious how Big 10 commish Jim Delany wants the college baseball season pushed back a month because northern teams (read: his Big 10) are at a competitive disadvantage. As has been pointed out by many sources, where is Delany’s concern for those schools being put at a competitive disadvantage by the BCS?


-If you’re looking for a book detailing the all-around decline in the level of play of basketball in this country-or if you just need some summer reading, may we suggest Falling From Grace by Terry Pluto. The book is somewhat dated-it was published in 1995-but it’s surprising just how relevant it is almost 10 years later. The sources interviewed by Pluto make some very sharp points; for instance, they explain how the supposed better defense played by today’s teams is really just a product of a lack of any kind of emphasis on offense. The descriptions of how basketball will get hurt by the problems then also proved prophetic, and one almost fears what Pluto would have to write if he wrote a similar book now. The book focuses on pro basketball, but many of its points can apply to college basketball and even levels below. Some of the points are a little corny or wistful, but most are very much on target. Pluto’s book does an excellent job of making readers understand that the problems with basketball are more deep-rooted than they’re usually presented to be.


-If you watched college basketball in the 1980s you know the sport was just better then. Coaches didn’t think of offense as a cancer, seniors were the most important players on most teams, and schools hadn’t yet gone full bore in turning the sport into nothing but a cash cow. In this opinion, some of the best college basketball previews in recent memory were also done by Sports Illustrated from 1985-88. SI used to set aside a whole issue special just for college basketball, and it had some great stories in a time when the game’s presence as a national sport-on both the men’s and, to a lesser degree, women’s side-was really starting to develop.

The 1986-87 preview is a personal favorite, if for no other reason than that was the first year this writer remembers watching college basketball extensively. College hoops was fun then because there were so many teams, many never heard of even for someone who followed college football. Being introduced to a bracket and schools like San Diego, Xavier, Santa Clara and Austin Peay was pretty cool just because you didn’t know anything about them.


At this time, college basketball was emerging as a big-time TV sport, with the Big East on everywhere one looked, yet in these glorious pre-BCS times there was still room for leagues like the WAC, Sun Belt and Missouri Valley to be legitimate players on the national scene.


SI’s preseason top 20:

1. North Carolina

2. Louisville


4. Oklahoma

5. Purdue

6. Indiana

7. Villanova

8. Alabama

9. Georgia Tech

10. Kentucky

11. Kansas

12. Georgetown

13. Auburn

14. N.C. State

15. Florida

16. Iowa

17. Navy

18. Tulsa

19. Wyoming

20. Syracuse


In addition to the top 20, SI also listed teams 21-40. Among the teams included were Cleveland State, Northeastern, Texas-El Paso, Western Kentucky and Miami (Florida), which had just resurrected its basketball program two years earlier. A little bit different from the recent ESPN.com top 50, which omitted any teams even remotely qualifying as sleepers while going to great lengths to publicize some of the more average teams in the country as possible national contenders.


Some other interesting notes and pennings from this issue and this time in general...

-This was, of course, a year that really revolutionized college basketball, with both the 45-second shot clock and three-point line introduced. SI featured Reggie Miller (UCLA) and Steve Alford (Indiana) among those who would likely make best use of the 3-point line and was right on. In fact, IU shot over 50% from three on its way to the 1987 NCAA championship.


-Miller, Alford, David Robinson, Armon Gilliam, Billy Donovan, Reggie Williams, Nate Blackwell, Reggie Lewis, Horace Grant. Just some of the studs and memorable names from this season, and all were seniors. Wasn’t it great when the old guys dominated college basketball?


-Not that freshmen didn’t matter then, either. J.R. Reid, Rex Chapman, Gary Payton, Derrick Coleman, Lionel Simmons and Dwayne Schintzius were just a few of the impact freshmen in 1986-87.


-True playmaker-first point guards were also in abundance at this time. Mark Jackson (St. John’s), Mark Wade (UNLV), Muggsy Bogues (Wake Forest), Doug Wojcik (Navy), Sherman Douglas (Syracuse) and Andre LaFleur (Northeastern) were just some of the slick point guys who didn’t need to score 15 ppg to have a definite influence on the outcome.


-It’s said over and over that today’s players lack fundamentals, but watch just one game-any game-from this time and it’s obvious to even the blind how much better it was played then. Back then, clear-outs, the high ball screen and one-on-one play were almost nowhere to be found, while constant movement, unselfishness and good shooting were in.


-UNLV darn near went a perfect 34-0 in the regular season. The Runnin’ Rebels lost just one game, an 89-88 decision at Oklahoma in January. The game didn’t go into overtime, but maybe it should have; cameras clearly showed a three-pointer by Vegas at the end of the first half was incorrectly ruled a two. CBS and Brent Musberger pointed out the possible effect of this almost immediately after the final buzzer sounded, and it made for an eerie ending in which one was almost waiting for UNLV to be awarded a point after the buzzer and for the teams to run back out on the floor for five more minutes of play.


-On the same weekend in December in 1986, #3 Iowa played at Cal-Irvine, Michigan played Middle Tennessee State in a tournament at UAB, and #6 Auburn played at Texas-El Paso. #4 North Carolina played #2 Purdue in Dallas, Texas, in a tournament hosted by SMU, and North Carolina State played AT Division II Tampa-and lost. Think there’s any chance in you-know-where of those games taking place in those places today?


Feel free to email Adam with any questions or comments: arfboy37@yahoo.com

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