— The world of college basketball has been bombarded with negative news this week. Suspensions and penalties were announced for Connecticut and Jim Calhoun. The NCAA accused Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl of unethical behavior. Kansas suspended starting guard Tyshawn Taylor. There’s news of a lawsuit involving unsavory behavior at TCU. And UTEP coach Tim Floyd had to be escorted off the floor by police after he was ejected from a game at East Carolina.
Where’s the love? Where’s the fun?
Maybe Saturday’s big tripleheader — Syracuse at Georgetown, BYU at San Diego State, Florida at Kentucky — can cure our case of the blues. Right now, it’s time to answer your questions.
A: There are several ways to answer your question, Clint. I’m going to start with the simple fact that 11 Big East teams have the credentials to make the NCAA tournament. I don’t know if that is “uber” worthy, but anyone would have to admit that’s very impressive. Providence has only three wins in the Big East and isn’t one of the Big 11. But Marshon Brooks of the Friars is the second-leading scorer in the nation with a 25.4 average. The only guy ahead of him is Jimmer Fredette (you’ve probably heard of him). Tell me another conference that comes close to presenting that package. That’s why the Big East is the best and it has nothing to do with an East Coast media bias.
When it comes to picking teams that can with the national championship, I’m looking for consistency, maturity, experience, and the chemistry to win six consecutive games. At this point last year, who knew that Duke would have the complete package? Only Butler fans could have predicted the Bulldogs as Final Four material. Without knowing how the brackets will be put together, it’s just a guess right now. But I agree with you about Pitt. The Panthers are on my list of six teams with the ingredients to win the title along with Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, Texas and Purdue.
My list is constantly evolving. Georgetown was close to moving in but the Hoyas just lost — at home to Cincinnati and Chris Wright suffered a broken hand. I love the way Purdue is playing right now. But having Purdue and Ohio State on my list doesn’t make the Big Ten better than the Big East. Same goes for the Big 12. Kansas and Texas are definitely capable of national championship runs, but that doesn’t make the Big 12 better than the Big East. If Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Missouri had lived up to expectations, it might have been close.
And I’m not a big fan of these stats but the Big East is 5-1 against Big 12 teams and 6-2 against Big Ten teams this season. If you want to call that a “collection of good teams,” go ahead, but the Big East has been terrific this season whether or not there is a national championship involved.
A: I’d love to have Jimmer on the floor as an option to attempt a game-winning shot. But the fact that Fredette leads the nation in scoring doesn’t make him the one and only option. In fact I’d feel equally confident putting the ball in the hands of UConn’s Kemba Walker, Providence’s Marshon Brooks, Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins, Norris Cole of Cleveland State, or Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore.
You want me to pick just one? Give me Jenkins. Check this out.
A: There’s no doubt about it. Lavin is punching all the right buttons with the Red Storm. St. John’s is back in the national rankings and may receive the double bye in the Big East tournament. Wouldn’t that be something? This was the perfect way for Lavin to return to coaching, the right atmosphere and the right time. Lavin knew he couldn’t do this alone, so his first step was putting together a staff of assistants who had the contacts and knew the New York area. Then they went out and put together a terrific recruiting class. And that was mandatory, based on the personnel change coming after this season.
You’ve got to give Norm Roberts credit for building the roster that Lavin inherited. I still think Roberts is a very good coach. Maybe he would have had the same success this season. Maybe not. We will never know. Sometimes players just need a change. The 10 seniors at St. John’s deserve credit for hanging in and they seem to be responding to Lavin’s personality as much as his system.
Keady gives Lavin a comfort zone. Keady and John Wooden have been the biggest influences on Lavin as a coach and when you are starting over in a new place it feels good to have something familiar, someone to lean on and trust every day. Put it all together and it’s good to see college basketball thriving in New York again. It’s important to the city, it’s important to St. John’s, it’s important to the Big East and to college basketball as a whole that Madison Square Garden has come alive.
About the only thing Lavin hasn’t done is coach a game and be part of the broadcast crew at the same time. He could probably pull it off. He’s a great quote for the media and still has his electronic media touch from those days at ESPN. After Dwight Hardy hit that winning shot to beat Pitt last Saturday, Levin invoked the names Baryshnikov, Astaire and Sinatra during a post-game interview. Gotta love that.
A: Thanks for taking the time to read and write Stuart. One of the things I failed to mention in that piece on Anthony Grant is the fact he’s a bit of a throwback. He worked his way up the ladder, first as a high school assistant and then as a head coach at Miami Central. Then he spent all that time with Billy Donovan and built his reputation as a college assistant. You don’t see that much any more. Virginia Commonwealth took a chance on him when he didn’t have any experience as a college head coach. To me, that’s just good research during the hiring process, knowing what you want and going out to find it. Grant proved himself and now he’s a coach of the year candidate at Alabama.
Every search process is different. The lucky schools are the ones that can find a coach who fits the school’s mission, shares the athletic direction’s vision and then can translate that into success. The N.C. State is difficult for the simple reason that the school exists in the shadow of North Carolina and Duke. It may be one of the toughest jobs in all of Division I. For the sake of N.C. State fans, I hope they find someone who can deal with that burden.