Seven Day Savior (Team): Arizona State Sun Devils
ASU played only one game last week, but what a game it was! The Sun Devils went into Tucson and defeated the Arizona Wildcats for the Sun Devils’ first season sweep of their in-state rivals since the 1994-95 season. The win, however, went far beyond just a sweep of the Wildcats. ASU, which had been at the top of the Pac-10 Conference only a couple of weeks ago, were in danger of collapsing down the stretch and being shut out of all post-season play. With that victory, coupled with an equally impressive win over Stanford last night, the Sun Devils have again become relevant in any NCAA conversation. This really is an amazing accomplishment considering the state of the ASU program only 1 ½ years ago. Coach Herb Sendek doesn’t have a senior that plays significant minutes and his top player, James Harden, is a freshman. Sendek’s rebuilding plan is already well ahead of schedule.
Seven Day Savior (Player): Ryan Wittman, Cornell Big Red
The sophomore guard from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and son of Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Randy Wittman has clearly become the best player in the Ivy League. In Cornell's sweep of Pennsylvania and Princeton, Wittman had 45 points and was clearly the best player on the floor. The 22.5 PPG average from last week really shouldn’t be a shock. Wittman was one of the best players on the floor earlier this season when Cornell went to Durham, North Carolina and played Duke tough. Wittman averages 15.7 PPG and shoots 51%...that’s right, 51%, from behind the three-point line. He’s an 87% free throw shooter and is even tied for second on the Big Red in rebounding average. With Wittman on the squad, Cornell is a real threat to not only get to the NCAA Tournament, but also upset a team or two along the way. By the way, the win over Penn was Cornell’s first over the Quakers in 18 games.
News of the Week: Indiana’s NCAA Troubles
When Indiana hired Kelvin Sampson to replace Mike Davis, there were more than a few whispers. Regardless of what one might think about Bob Knight, (and I’ve always thought of him as over-the-top), he ran a VERY clean program while in Bloomington. Sampson, who had already gotten into hot water with the NCAA because of some illegal recruiting phone calls while he was at Oklahoma, has a reputation as a loose cannon when it comes to the nitty-gritty of the rules. This reputation began when Sampson was at Washington State and gained steam while at OU. Indiana HAD to have known about these whispers, and yet they hired Sampson anyway. The powers-that-be in the Indiana athletic department felt that Sampson was worth the risk. He’s a very good game coach and prepares his teams well. He has Indiana poised to get a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. But now he has been accused of lying to the NCAA. This is the second-worst infraction that a school or coach can be accused of, behind only the dreaded, “lack of institutional control.” Based on the fact that Sampson was already put on what was effectively a probation while at Oklahoma, and that Indiana had to punish him last fall, the likelihood of Sampson’s surviving these latest allegations is pretty slim. Want to bet that the Indiana AD is wishing they went in a different direction now?
Game of the Week (The one you DON’T know about): Memphis at UAB
While were on the subject of Indiana, let’s look at former Hoosier coach Mike Davis and his UAB Blazers as they prepare to host the #1 ranked Memphis Tigers on Saturday. Houston has been getting a lot of press the past few weeks as the only Conference-USA team that could give Memphis a problem. Obviously the press hasn’t been paying attention to Birmingham. Davis is building a strong program at UAB, and he’s doing it outside the shadow of Bob Knight. Memphis is certainly a stronger program…right now, but if Davis and the Blazers can upset the Tigers then it will show that they have taken a big step up. UAB still has an outside shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and a win against the Tigers would go a long way to getting them on the Big Dance card. On the other hand, Memphis is still looking at gaining the #1 overall seed for the NCAA Tourney. Because of C-USA’s low RPI rating, any loss in conference in the regular season will cost Memphis disproportionately in the seeding process compared to any other of the top teams. This is a big game for both teams.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
At least one of the Sutton boys is doing well these days. Scott Sutton and the Golden Eagles have been the dominant force in the Summit League, (formerly known as the Mid-Continent Conference), for the past several years, supplanting the Valparaiso Crusaders who just moved to the Horizon League. Sutton’s squad is undefeated in league play; they have an overall record of 17-5, including an easy win against Oklahoma State at a neutral site and they have a wonderful opportunity for a big win on television in next weekends Bracket Buster games when they host Missouri Valley Conference power, Creighton. There is a possibility that if Oral Roberts ran the table for the rest of the regular season and got to the Summit League Tournament final but lost, that the Golden Eagles could be in line for an at-large bid to the Big Dance; their RPI is actually pretty good, at 59 this week.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Sean Sutton, Oklahoma State
Scott Sutton is having a great season at Oral Roberts. Scott’s brother Sean, the second-year head man at Oklahoma State, is not. When Eddie Sutton, the famous coaching legend and father of the two Sutton boys, “retired” prematurely, it left Sean in a bit of a lurch. He had been named Eddie’s successor, but the time for that to happen was supposed to be at least another season away. Fate has a funny way of causing plans to go awry. Sutton, who is a good X’s and O’s guy, wasn’t ready quite yet to be the head man. It was hope that he would grow into the position, being able to rely on the talent that was supposed to be in Stillwater. The problem is that the talent isn’t that good, (thanks, Dad), and Sutton isn’t an ace recruiter. Adding to Sutton’s woes is the fact that the Cowboys haven’t won a conference road game since beating Kansas State on February 4…2006! That’s more than two years between conference road wins. As of today, the Cowboys sit in LAST place in the Big 12. That’s a big fall for a proud program. And a big fall usually needs a fall guy.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Nepotism in Coaching
The Divine Right of Kings used to dictate that the eldest living son of a given European royal family would take the throne upon the death of the king. Whether the new ruler was going to be better than the newly deceased ruler was a crapshoot, but the idea was that the genetics that ran through the family would provide a wise and benevolent ruler. England beheaded Charles I; France did the same to Louis XVI, while Czar Nicholas II of Russia was shot along with his entire family. You get the idea. People generally know that you shouldn’t hire applicants for jobs just because they’re family members. That has a way of turning out badly. A coaching gig at a major Division I institution should be thought of as no different. However, the statistics would show otherwise, at least recently. With last week’s “retirement” of Bob Knight at Texas Tech, and the subsequent hiring of Knight’s son, Pat, as the new head man, nepotism is alive and well in college basketball, and that may not be a bad thing. Admittedly, sometimes it turns out poorly. I already mentioned Sean Sutton’s troubles, but he’s far from the only one. I mentioned last week that it was much more likely, based on his resume, that Pat Knight was going to struggle at Tech. However, there are many “legacies” coaching in their fathers’ chairs that are doing very well. Keno Davis is the mid-major darling of the college hoops world right now, with his 22-1 Drake team. Several years ago, Scott Drew took over for his father Homer at Valparaiso and he got them to the NCAA Tournament in his only season before he took the Baylor job. Based on Baylor’s play this year, Drew knows his stuff and is qualified to be a successful D-1 coach. John Thompson III has taken his father’s seat at Georgetown and returned the Hoyas to prominence. Perhaps most successful of all is Tony Bennett at Washington State, who has had the Cougars poised for a top seed in the NCAA Tourney the past two seasons. One would think that the laws that apply to the rest of the world in regards to leadership would remain the same in the basketball world. Apparently they do not. But, hey, even if they didn’t, at least if you weren’t a success the fans wouldn’t kill you…I think.