Seven Day Savior (Team): Drake Bulldogs
I’ve finally given in to the groundswell that is Drake. Much of the college basketball landscape has fallen in love with Coach Keno Davis and his Bulldogs as they have become the mid-major darling of the college hoops world. This week they definitely deserve the accolades. Drake went 2-0 this past week, winning both on the road in the tough Missouri Valley Conference. The Valley may be “down” this season, but it is still one of the premier second-tier conferences in the country. To win on the road is an accomplishment in this league. The topper, though, was that Drake beat a tough Indiana State team to begin the week and then essentially clinched the conference by coming back from 16 points down in the second half to defeat second place Illinois State. At this point Drake is now positioning itself for a 3-seed in the Big Dance.
Seven Day Savior (Player): K.J. Garland, UNC-Asheville
The senior guard scored 26 points in a huge win over Big South Conference rival, Winthrop. The game between Asheville and Winthrop was a battle for first place in the Big South. The game was all the more important for Asheville because it was a home game, (the return game is at Winthrop on March 1). Many have heard of Winthrop because of their 7’7” post player, Kenny George. George, who would be a handful in any conference, is dominant in the Big South, but he sat out the Winthrop game with an injury. KJ Garland stepped up in a huge way, hitting all 4 of his shots from behind the arc while going 9-11 overall from the floor. He was also 4-6 on his free throw attempts. It was a huge game for the Bulldogs and Garland, and the senior came up big.
Game of the Week (The one you DON’T know about): NC State at Maryland
I typically like to pick an important mid-major game each week, but there really aren’t any match-ups in the smaller conferences that scream “big game”. Instead I turn to the ACC and a game between two teams that are bunched in the middle of the pack trying to emerge as a solid third or fourth candidate for NCAA Tournament out of the ACC. Maryland started the year poorly, losing to American, Ohio and VCU. They have come on strong as of late, as evidenced by their win at North Carolina and woulda, coulda, shoulda game against Duke. North Carolina State looked dreadful in their loss to the tar heels and collapsed in the second half at Duke. In the last week they have taken a step in the right direction with wins over Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, both of whom are bunched together in the mess that is the middle of the ACC standings. NC State has the better RPI but they probably need this game more. They can’t seem to win on the road and that loss to the Tar heels was honestly bad enough to keep the Wolfpack out of the NCAAs unless they can get a couple of decent road wins.
Seven Days Under the Radar: Purdue Boilermakers
It is unusual to call the co-leaders of the Big Ten a team that is “under the radar,” but in all honesty, outside of Indiana, who’s really talking about the Purdue Boilermakers? They sit atop the Big ten with a conference mark of 9-1, (tied with Wisconsin), and have already beaten the Badgers. Their lone conference loss was a three point nail biter at Michigan State. They’ve already won three of four conference road games, which is good considering that 5 of their last 8 are on the road. To top it off, Coach Matt Painter is relying on two freshmen, E’Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel, to not only be key contributors, but to lead the team. The Boilers will no longer be under the radar if they can win this Saturday when they travel to Madison to play the return engagement against Wisconsin.
Seven Days on the Hot Seat: Ernie Kent, Oregon
Tow weeks ago, Oregon State fired Coach Jay John. Last week, I wrote that fellow Pac-10 coach Ben Braun of California was feeling the heat. Now I return to the Pac-10 once again to find another coach whose bottom might be getting a bit warm. A bit of history here; Kent was in serious trouble of losing his job just two seasons ago. His team had tanked in the second half of that season and his kids were holding player-only meetings that were called to discuss whether the players should go to the athletic director and ask him to fire Kent. There was some serious dissention in Eugene. Kent held onto his job and thanks to Aaron Brooks and an athletic supporting cast, Oregon had a successful year last season. This season, players like Malik Hairston, Bryce Taylor and Maarty Leunen were supposed to make Oregon a legitimate contender for the Pac-10 Conference crown. Instead, Oregon sits in a tie for 7th place in the conference and still has to travel to Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Oregon is in real danger of missing out on the NCAAs. It only gets worse for Kent. He graduates three starters and has no significant replacements on the horizon. Barring an unforeseen recruiting coupe by Kent, Oregon will be one of the two worst teams in the Pac-10 next season. The Oregon athletic department may not wait that long to hand Kent his walking papers.
News of the Week: Bobby Knight’s Retirement
This was an obvious choice. Knight’s stepping down from the head job at Texas Tech has had many pundits commenting on the General’s career, both positively and negatively. I, for one, could care less that Knight decided it was time for a rest and time for his son to take over. Knight had become a shell of himself at Texas Tech. For the life of me, I can’t see why Knight took the job in the first place. His chase for both the all-time wins record and 900 wins were mere afterthoughts to a career that had seen Knight win three national titles and an Olympic gold medal, when the medal actually meant something. There was no question that the man could teach the game as well as anyone, but his ability to change, even slightly, how he dealt with players was what many remember about him. He won with players that made little name for themselves at the next level, Isaiah Thomas aside, but he didn’t win any popularity contests. More importantly, he wasn’t as respected as many would have you think. Knight ran a “military” program wherever he was coaching. That meant that he ruled by fear and intimidation. The world of Bob Knight was and always will be black and white. That means it was always either his way or the highway. That’s what Knight will be remembered for by me.
Seven Days of Head Scratching: Knight’s “Retirement”, Part Deux
I may catch some serious flak for this, but how many of you think Knight would have left when he did if his Texas Tech team had a record of 17-4 instead of its current 12-9? I, for one, do not think Knight would have stepped down until the end of the season. The Red Raiders could be looking at a losing record this season, what, with Texas, Kansas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Baylor still left on the schedule. My feeling is that Knight knew this, too. However, even if I am wrong, and I very well could be, the real head scratcher here is wondering why Knight would leave his son Pat in such an unenviable position. Pat Knight has no head coaching experience and his only assistant coaching experience comes from being on his father’s staff. Knight is a great teacher, but there at least a hint of nepotism there. Now Texas Tech has a head coach with no head coaching experience, taking over a team mid-season from a coach who is revered by many in the basketball community. There is a chance that Pat Knight’s players may not listen to him because he’s not Bobby Knight. Look, this probably is overplaying the situation, but why would Knight put his son in a position where any of these questions could even be reasonably asked?