March 30, 2009

Weekend Recap: Tom Izzo, Calipari, ND in the NIT, Rick Pitino Jr., and why Hasheem Thabeet shouldn't be the #2 pick in the NBA Draft

10) Thomas Montgomery Izzo. Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

Throwing this challenge out there to our readers. If anyone wants to come on here and get into a spirited debate about who is the best college basketball coach in America, I'm in. I'll take Tom Izzo and write 10,000 words on his behalf. Fire away if you want to promote someone else. I'm all ears, and I accept the challenge if anyone wants it. Give me Izzo, and everyone else can have the rest of the field.

Five Final Fours in 11 years!! FIVE!! Are you kidding me?? Just to point out how amazing that is, every four year player who has come to play for Tom Izzo has played in at least one Final Four.

And he's doing it at Michigan State! It's not like he's at Carolina or Duke or Kansas or UCLA or Kentucky with a national recruiting base and national spotlight. Izzo has recruited good players to MSU, but he's basically done it by recruiting good, solid 3-4 star guys from the Michigan and Ohio area. No one talks about Michigan State all year and very few people are even paying attention to them, and yet there they are in the Final Four every other year and always in the Sweet 16.

Pound for pound, I think Tom Izzo is the best college basketball coach in America. He's not fancy, he doesn't win by running up and down the court and recruiting five star guys, but he gets it done.

Izzo coached the pants off Pitino on Sunday. It was a clinic, especially since he only had two days to put together the game plan. Louisville has been ripe for an upset all year, and it took Izzo to finally implement the strategy to take them out. Louisville never really had to get down and play halfcourt offense against a tough man-to-man defense all year, and that's pretty much what they got from Sparty. MSU took away the 3 and the easy transition buckets, and Louisville panicked.

As great as Louisville played on Friday night against Arizona, I walked out of the dome thinking that Michigan State had a great chance to win that game. Louisville was a little bit too cocky coming off that win, and Sparty is a nightmare opponent for any team that comes in overconfident. Sparty scraped and clawed to get that win over Kansas. You knew they were ready to go. Louisville is a great team, but they weren't some juggernaut. After Friday night, it seemed like they bought into their own hype a little bit.

I read a great story in the Indianapolis Star the other day on the drive out of Indy about the "War Drill" at Michigan State. Essentially, the players do a drill with no out of bounds and no fouls where they just go crazy and get into scrums to fight for the ball. Travis Walton was saying that guys will come out of that drill with blood literally running down their legs and out of their noses. He said they even put on football pads at times.

How great is that drill?? Is there any wonder why Michigan State is always playing deep in March?? It's not because Tom Izzo yells and screams that they have to be tough. He doesn't just talk about "nasty" and "pound it" and other cliches about toughness. It's because they PRACTICE this stuff. They work on drills specifically designed to make them tougher, and they do it throughout the year. I've heard that Izzo has MULTIPLE practices where they don't even touch a basketball. How many of our readers think Mike Brey has ever held a "war drill" at Notre Dame?? I would be willing to bet anyone here that we've never done that type of drill. We probably have 3 point contests and free throw shooting drills. That's Notre Dame basketball, and that's why we're in the NIT instead of playing to go to the Final Four.

Interesting note about Izzo's recruiting. Most of their guys are from Michigan, but they have three key guys from Ohio. Raymar Morgan, Delvon Roe, and Travis Walton. Wonder if Thad Matta would like to have those guys instead of BJ Mullens and Kosta Koufos these days.

Anyway, with the Final Four in Detroit, doesn't Michigan State have a pretty darn good shot to cut down the nets and win this thing?? I'm expecting a HUGE Sparty contingent, so it could be like a borderline home game for them. I don't know, Izzo just seems to love his team this year, and you KNOW he is going to have something drummed up for UConn and Thabeet. It's probably not going to happen, but I'd love to see it. Izzo is the most underrated legendary coach of all time, and he is first class all the way. I'd love to see him get a second ring.

9) I had a chance to attend the Midwest Regional on Friday night, so I figured I'd throw out some thoughts on the experience.

THUMBS UP:

Gus Johnson - The ticket lottery gods smiled on us in a big way for this thing because we somehow ended up in the very front row behind one of the baskets and right near the press row for Friday night's games. Anyway, we had a great time spotting various notable figures in the basketball world walking around all night (Danny Manning, Peter Edward Gillen, Len Elmore, Will Purdue, etc), but no one quite got the crowd going like Mr. Gus Johnson. As he walked by us to head to the bathroom, there were a good thirty people chanting his name. He actually seemed happy to get the acknowledgment. Probably the best part of the Gus Johnson experience was that he was rocking some old school Air Jordans underneath his CBS Sports suit. What a special human!! What other sports announcer would be sporting Air Jordans with his suit?? Pretty sure Nantz hasn't worn anything but penny loafers in 25 years at CBS. Seems like the cult of Gus Johnson continues to grow.

Louisville band - The Louisville band was probably the worst of the four bands, but they did do one thing that was spectacular. As the Cards came out of the locker room to start the game, they jumped into the fight song at full throttle. And then they just went silent. We looked over and there was Richard Pitino slowly walking into the arena as the Louisville band started playing the theme music to "The Godfather." Are you kidding me?? How great is that?? Pitino walking out to the floor looking as sharp as ever with The Godfather music humming in the background. We were sitting next to a couple from Arizona, and they just about went ghost white when they heard the music. You wouldn't think it was intimidating, but it was one of the more chilling and intimidating intros I've ever heard at a sporting event.

Kansas band and the Jayhawk Nation - I admittedly do not know a ton about Kansas basketball other than the basic stuff, so I was interested to see what their collective fanbase was like during a game. WOW. What a great fanbase they have. Kansas was not exactly a close drive to Indy (about 8 hours from what I had heard), but they were out in full force on Friday night. Our seats ended up being right behind the Kansas band, and they were easily the best band of the night. Just rocking all night with KU songs and other random pop songs. Dr. Kenneth Dye might have a rival if he wants ND to remain as the current reigning "TBDITL." That band director at KU was a feisty chap with some serious 'tude. I think he might be on my shortlist for replacements when Dr. Kenneth Dye hangs up his conductor's stick someday.

After the game, I figured we'd be running into about a million Louisville and MSU fans celebrating their victories, so I was blown away when the KU fans showed up en masse after the game. Maybe they were just pissed about the game and wanted to blow off some steam, or maybe they just like having a good time. Either way, we closed down the bar with some great KU fans. Great fanbase.

Indianapolis - To be perfectly honest, I've always been a little jealous of the city of Indianapolis. As someone who grew up in Cincy and watched in envy as Indy hosted Final Fours and other big college events even though the two cities are comparable in size, I always wondered how Indy got to host all these big time events. What was so great about Indy?? It's a Midwestern city in the middle of farm country with bad weather and no real glamour. And yet they have Final Fours every five years, and always seem to be hosting something big with the NCAA.

Well, now that I've been to Indy four or five times for basketball games in the last five years or so, I can understand why they get these events on a regular basis. Indy is a fun city. Everything is centrally located downtown, the venues are really nice and brand new, there are good hotels that are close to the action, there are plenty of bars and restaurants to go drink some beers, it's inexpensive, and the people in Indy are nice. Isn't that pretty much what you want if you are going to a city for an NCAA Tournament event?? I'll put it this way. I'd much rather go to a regional in Indy than a city like Glendale, Arizona where you have to drive everywhere to do anything. There are cities that are more fun to visit than Indianapolis, but it serves its purpose for these types of events.

The Louisville Nation - MY GOD. I have always known that Louisville had a passionate fanbase that lived for their Cards, and UL routinely would bring a couple thousand people up to Cincinnati to pack the Shoemaker Center when UL and UC got together. I know a handful of Louisville fans, and they are diehards.

But I did not expect to see 20,000 Louisville fans in the dome on Friday night or whatever it was that they brought up to Indy. That is awfully impressive. I know it's only two hours away, but that is some serious support for a college basketball game. And I hear that they had close to 30,000 fans for the Sunday game. I honestly did not know that they would have enough support to bring those types of numbers. Louisville has a very regional fanbase. It's pretty much confined to the city of Louisville. I knew they would bring people, but I didn't quite expect them to take over the city. Pretty impressive.

Kentucky is probably the best fanbase for travel purposes in the country, but I think Louisville has to be right up there in the top 10 if not higher.

Player families - We were about twenty feet from all the player families at Kansas. High comedy!! There were about 20 Aldriches there in all their hillbilly glory, and then you have Tyshawn Taylor's family sitting right behind them rocking some "street attire." I can't even imagine those two families interacting.

One thing I was curious about. Does Kansas pick up the tab for travel for some of these player families, or are they on their own?? Call me a racist or whatever, but I wonder how Tyshawn Taylor's family traveled to see him play all year.

It would be crazy to be a college basketball coach. When you watch the families react to things happening on the court, it felt like high school all over again. These coaches probably spend a surprisingly large amount of their day talking to moms and dads during the season wondering why their kid isn't getting minutes or touches or whatever. You would think that stuff ends once they get to college, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's actually worse.

THUMBS DOWN:

NCAA alcohol policy - On the surface, maybe this isn't that big of a deal. So you can't drink at the NCAA Tournament games. Big whoop. You can't drink at a lot of college games. That's what tailgating is for. I understand all that.

But the thing about the NCAA Tournament is that it's a LOOOOOOOOOOOONG event. Between the two games and a half hour break, it's a five hour event.

Here's how this thing shook out on Friday evening:

6-7pm - crowd is jacked; mostly Louisville fans who had been partying for several hours before the game; loud crowd, very energetic, most people have definitely had a few adult beverages and are feeling pretty exuberant
7pm-9pm - LVille-Zona game - people are still in good spirits; crowd is still excited to see the basketball; alcohol is wearing off a bit, but people are into the games
9pm -10pm - game ends; LVille fans start to hit the exits and the MSU and KU fans start to get amped up; crowd is still feeling pretty good, and the casual fans are hoping for a good game
10-11 - KU and MSU fans are going toe to toe and bringing their A games for the first half, but a lot of the other fans are sort of getting worn out
11pm-11:30pm - right about at the 15 or so minute mark of the second half, the crowd just died, including the KU and MSU fans; there were multiple stretches where you could literally hear individual fans talking or yelling things; people are getting antsy and tired and ready for a beer or at least a change of venue; casual fans are either hitting the exits or trying their best to stay interested; 75% of the people are in stage two of a hangover after not having touched a drink for about 5 hours
11:30pm-12:15pm - crowd picks back up for an exciting finish, but everyone is ready to go to a bar or go home by that point; after five hours, most people are saying that they had a great time but might be a little burnt out on basketball

The thing about the NCAA Tournament is that it's a really really long evening of hoops. Why not serve beer?? If anything, it might give your crowd a second life during that second game. If everyone is out partying before that first game, they're going to be dead by the middle of game two. A high percentage of people who attend these games are from out of town, so of course they are going to be looking to party it up a little before the games. Your typical NCAA Tournament attenders are not locals who are driving in from the suburbs after work. Why not let these out of towners keep the good times rolling during the games??

Lucas Oil Stadium/dome stadiums - I've been to the Lucas Oil Stadium once before for the ND-Ohio State hoops game in December, and it's a spectacular facility. Everything is really nice, the concourses are amazing, and I don't think I've ever waited for even one second to use the bathroom. I'm in awe of the size of the place, and can't even imagine how much money it cost to build it.

I'm actually not even anti-dome. If anything, I think it's a great idea for a city to build a dome. I've long come to terms with the fact that the Final Four has to be played in a dome to maximize ticket sales. Why play these games in an 18,000 seat arena when you can sell 65,000 seats in a dome?? It makes complete sense to hold Final Four in a dome.

But a regional?? I don't think it works to be perfectly honest. There is simply no way to fill up a 65,000 seat stadium for a regional, and it makes the stadium look empty if it is not filled all the way. Case in point, there were 35,000 people in Indy on Friday night. 35,000!! And the place looked dead when you looked around. There were huge gaps of empty seats throughout the dome. The dome also sucks the noise out of the building with the high ceiling. I don't know how 35,000 jacked up hoops fans can produce that little noise, so it had to be the building.

Now contrast that with the regional in Boston. There were 18,000 people there for the Nova-Pitt game. That's HALF the number of people who attended the Indy event. And yet that place was buzzing all night and went to another level during the second half. It all comes down to the arena in my opinion. If you put 20,000 of the fans at the Indy event into Conseco Fieldhouse or Assembly Hall in Bloomington, it would have been nuts. In the dome, it was a lifeless crowd.

The Pac 10 - Think about this for a second. If you had to pick teams that you WOULDN'T want to see in your regional, wouldn't just about every team be from the Pac 10?? Is there even one good fanbase in the Pac 10 that actually travels well??

I saw maybe ten Arizona fans in Indy. I know it's not a close location, but come on Zona. I thought you were supposed to be a big time college basketball program. You've been to 25 NCAA Tournaments in a row and multiple Final Fours. Where were your fans?? Does anyone think IU or Purdue or Kentucky wouldn't send a bunch of fans to Phoenix to a regional out there??

And the Pac 10 wonders why they don't get any respect. If they don't care about their programs, why should we??

8) Some other thoughts on the Final Four/Elite Eight teams.

Villanova - Speaking of teams and coaches I love.....

Well, we finally got our memorable game for this tournament. Man, that Pitt-Nova game was phenomenal. Should have known it would be special with Verne Lundquist involved!! While I don't want to rile up the NBA people out there, it is games like Nova-Pitt that remind me of why college basketball is the best. There is no way for the NBA to replicate a do-or-die format like that where every shot could mean the end of your college career.

I thought Pitt played a great game on Saturday night. Pitt is one of those teams that you need to watch multiple times in a row to start to appreciate. After watching them against Xavier and then watching them again two days later against Nova, you start to notice things about Pitt that make you appreciate how they play. Their out of bounds plays, their defense, their rebounding, their bench, the way they pass, etc. Everyone on that Pitt team seems to have a complete understanding of their role. Everything starts with that defense and the boards. I was rooting for Nova, but I felt bad for Pitt. So close to the Final Four, and now they are rebuilding next year.

As for Nova, I'm excited to see how they match up with North Carolina. EVERYONE is going to be writing them off in this game, but I actually think UNC is a decent matchup for Nova. As talented as UNC is, Villanova is every bit as quick as North Carolina. And they are probably the most physical team that UNC will play all year. If Fisher and Reynolds and company can get in Lawson's face and make him know right from the tip that they are going to be in his grill all night, I think they can throw off UNC. Heck, they very nearly beat Carolina in 2005 with Foye and Lowry and Ray.

Scottie Reynolds. What a shot. If he is back at Nova next year, look out. They could be headed to back to back Final Fours. Then again, he seems like a pretty good guy, so it would be nice to see him play himself into the first round this year.

Connecticut - Man, UConn got genuinely lucky to get by Missouri. There were multiple times when I thought they were going down in that game, but they pulled it out.

Even though they struggled, I still have UConn as the team to beat going into the Final Four. When they are at their best, they have the ingredients that you need to win a national title. They have an elite lead guard (Price), a dominant low post scorer (Adrien), an intimidating defender in the middle (Thabeet), a dynamic forward (Robinson), and 2-3 really solid role players (Walker, Austrie, Edwards) who bring something to the table. Plus, Jim Calhoun.

I've watched all these teams, and I still think UConn has the best overall talent. Physically, they are the most impressive team. Thabeet is a lottery pick, Adrien has an NBA body, Price is an NBA player, Robinson has NBA athleticism, and even Walker is a really explosive player. I just don't see any other team with that level of talent. UConn can win games with their offense and their defense. They can run up and the down the court, but they are just as capable of bogging down and getting good looks in the halfcourt game. Price can drive and score, Adrien does his work down low and at the free throw line, Thabeet gets buckets in close, and now they have Robinson to fly in from the wing. It's not always pretty, but they have so many weapons.

Michigan State is going to be awfully tough to beat for UConn, but the Huskies SHOULD win that game. They have better players at every position, and they can play the halfcourt game unlike Louisville.

North Carolina - Carolina plays such a "pretty" game, so it's awfully hard not to be impressed with them year in and year out. When Lawson is cruising up and down the court and dropping dimes all over the place, they give off a vibe like they are unstoppable. Plus, everyone on Carolina is so highly-skilled. Even that guy Ed Davis is an incredible talent off the bench. Roy Williams is pretty much the perfect coach for North Carolina with his preference for an uptempo offense. If you were a talented player, why would you not want to play in that offense?? It seems like he is pretty much on autopilot these days to take UNC to at least the Final Four.

But isn't North Carolina sort of like Oklahoma in football?? As great as OU is year in and year out on offense under Stoops, the only thing that matters is how they look in a title game against a great defensive team. OU can score 60+ a game every week in the Big 12, but I don't really buy it until I see them against a defense like Florida or USC. And for the most part, they have come up small against those great defenses once they get into the title game. That's sort of how I feel about North Carolina. They have enough talent to run roughshod over teams like Gonzaga and Oklahoma, but how are they going to fare when they get smacked in the mouth by teams like Villanova and Connecticut?? When guys like Fisher and Reynolds get into Lawson and Ellington's face, how are they going to respond?? Wasn't everyone trying to hand the national title to UNC last year before the Final Four and then they got popped by Kansas??

As for a UNC-UConn matchup, I look at those matchups and like how things shape up for UConn. Thabeet is capable of owning the paint, and I think UConn's guards/wings are every bit as good as UNC's guys.

Missouri - Couldn't have been more impressed with Missouri on Saturday. It's a shame that a lot of their best players are seniors. I'd love to see those guys back next year for another run at the Final Four. Mike Anderson is an outstanding coach. He used to beat Huggins regularly in his UAB days, and now he's really got something going at Mizzou. Mizzou is lucky to have him, and they play an exciting style of ball.

7) Some thoughts on the players who impressed me and didn't impress me this weekend.

Hasheem Thabeet - Wanted to start with some thoughts on Hasheem Thabeet. While I do understand what he brings to the table, I cannot get on board with him as the #2 overall pick. I know he's a project, but how many of these huge projects actually turn into superstars?? Don't you need to have some level of basketball skill?? I could get behind the idea of Thabeet if he was a highly-skilled and athletic big man who just didn't have enough experience or strength, but that's not how I view Thabeet at all.

Look at Thabeet's game as we stand today:

TERRIBLE hands - One of the most important things you want to see out of any big man is that the guy has good hands and reflexes in the paint. Thabeet cannot catch the ball!! Price will drive to the bucket and dump it to Thabeet, and he'll fumble the pass before collecting it. He can sort of get away with it in college, but there's no way he can drop passes right under the bucket and get away with it in the NBA. My feeling on hands is that you either have good hands or you don't. Thabeet has bad hands. Maybe they'll get a little better, but it's never going to be a strength for him. He'll certainly never have hands like Blake Griffin.

Bad instincts - The other thing for Thabeet offensively is that he has almost zero offensive skills or instincts. How many times does he grab a rebound two feet from the basket and try to put it on the floor?? Why would you do that?? You're 7'3"!!! Catch the ball and go up with it. Thabeet has no offensive moves either. He's been at UConn for 3 years. How does he not have any real moves??

Relies too much on the shotblock - For all the fuss about Thabeet as a defender (some of the praise is obviously deserved), how many times have we seen him unnecessarily go for the block and then leave the weak side wide open for someone to sneak in and steal an offensive rebound?? It seems like UConn gives up a ton of cheap putbacks simply because Thabeet wasn't there to block out and clean the glass. And Thabeet seems to pick bad times to take a chance on a block when all he really should be doing is staying home and grabbing the board.

I don't know, Thabeet does have an intimidation effect on teams (Missouri was a little spooked by him), but he's still fairly raw even on defense.

So what is his ceiling as a pro?? Dikembe Mutumbo?? Dalembert?? Couldn't he easily turn out to be Desagna Diop?? If so, is that really worth the #2 pick in the draft?? If he turns out to be Mutombo, I would say yes. But I don't think he's a lock to get to that level by any stretch. Thabeet will get better of course and probably can stay in the NBA a long time with his size and athletic ability, but you think of a #2 pick as a guy who can be a big time difference maker. I don't think of Thabeet at that level.

Jordan Hill - Ok, maybe he won't be a huge bust, but a top 5 pick?? My god, how weak is this draft?? Is this the weakest draft of all time?? I watched this guy intently in Indy, and there's nothing all that special about him. I thought he got outplayed badly by Samardo Samuels.

Plus, he's a junior. For some reason, I thought he was only a freshman, and now I'm seeing that he's actually a junior. For a junior, he's really not all that polished.

The guy that came to mind for me is Anderson Varejao. He seems like he can be an energy guy who does things around the bucket, but not a go-to-guy. I like Varejao, but is that the guy I want if I have a top 5 pick?? Not going to lie, I'd hope to get more than that out of that pick.

Chase Budinger - I think Budinger can be a good value pick somewhere in the middle of the first round. Even though his team was getting killed, I thought he was the best all-around player on the floor in that Zona-Louisville game. Budinger has steadily gotten better and better, and now he's got a really solid all-around game. He's a good shooter, good rebounder for a guard, good ballhandler, and it seems like he plays really hard. Arizona didn't show up to play at all, but Budinger was at least out there scrapping and going hard.

If he was a European guy, he'd be going in the top 6-7 picks. I'm not crazy about white NBA big men, but there are a lot of good European wings and shooting guards out there who give you energy and good offensive production. That's how I view Budinger.

Dejuan Blair - Dejuan Blair is a MANCHILD. That was an awesome performance by him on Saturday night. There were stretches of the game where Villanova would have 2 and even 3 guys on him, and he'd still get the ball. When you have that superhuman strength, there's a place for you to succeed in the NBA.

Even though Blair is only 6'6", it seems like a lot of these undersized power forwards are finding a place in the NBA if you work at it and stay in great shape. Jason Maxiell is about 6'5", but he has settled into a nice career up in Detroit. Blair has to take care of his body, but I think he can be successful. He has a 7'3" wingspan and great hands. Plus, Dejuan Blair is a warrior. That type of attitude will carry over into the pros. He's not a star, but I'd take him on my roster.

Sam Young - Another guy who I really like. Sort of this year's CDR. How can you not like what he brings to the table?? He can score, he defends, he rebounds, he's a team player, and he's a winner. When I watch Sam Young, I think of that dude Aaron McKie who used to play for Temple. Is there any reason why he can't be in an 8 man rotation somewhere in the league as early as next year??

There's only one thing about Sam Young that concerns me. He's 23!! By the time the NBA Draft rolls around, he'll be 24. No wonder he's so good. Plus, the guy looks like he's 30. If you draft Sam Young, you get a guy who has already physically matured into his body. He basically has no upside. Did he even attend school this year or was he just a basketball player?? How could he possibly still have classes?? It seems like he has been at Pitt for about 10 years, and his age confirms that.

Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich
- Kansas has struck gold with these two guys, and they are the perfect guys to have in college. They're not quite good enough to be real threats to go to the NBA, but they're both great players for college. Isn't that exactly what you shoot for in college?? You don't want a bunch of one and dones, but you want guys who at least have the ability to someday be considered NBA players.

Bill Self seems to have a great knack for identifying those guys. They really haven't had any one and dones that I can think of, but he always seems to have a lot of 3-4 year guys that will eventually get drafted in the NBA.

After watching Cole Aldrich in person, I am starting to understand why NBA GMs talk themselves into big white guys. On the surface, he's just a big white lug who instantly sends out signals that he's a future stiff in the NBA someday. But if you watch him closely in person, he does all these little things that probably tug at the hearstrings of some old school scout!! Aldrich throws some of the best outlet passes you will ever see. He gets the ball off the glass and is immediately firing off a two-handed overhead pass to one of the guards at halfcourt. It was amazing to watch. He's also a great defender who really seems to understand positioning, and he finishes well around the basket. I could see some scout falling in love with all those things, and that's how a guy like Aldrich ends up going in the top 10 someday. But then you take a step back and remember that he's a 6'10" white guy!! Those guys never pan out in the NBA, but his outstanding play against Michigan State temporarily made me forget that he's slow and white. Either way, he's a great college big man.

Collins is also sweet. I remember him being a contributor from last year's team, but I hadn't realized how good he has become.

Just throwing this out there now. If both those guys are back next year, Kansas is probably my preseason pick to cut down the nets next year. I can't think of any other team off the top of my head that returns two better players than Aldrich and Collins. They also seem to have a bunch of athletic wing guys in Morris and Taylor who are only going to get better as they get older. I was really impressed with Kansas, and they play really hard. I still don't know how they didn't win that Michigan State game. They controlled the game for about 55 minutes, and then Sparty just clamped down and surged past them.

6) Another great blurb I read in the Indy newspaper. I always love to read about rising young stars in the college basketball coaching world, and it appears that there might be a rising star on the Louisville staff right now: RICHARD PITINO, JR!! I love it! Pitino's son. Rick Sr. has been saying to anyone who will listen that RPJ is the best young recruiter in America right now, and there are already rumors that RPJ is about to get a head job at Boston University. He's only 26 years old and graduated from Providence. Plus, he's basically a clone of Rick Sr with the slicked back hair and snazzy suits.

If you were the athletic director at Boston University, why would you NOT hire Richard Pitino Jr?? BLOODLINES!!! BLOODLINES!! BLOODLINES!! Anyone who learned at the knee (literally) of a living legend like Rick Pitino should be a no-brainer, and he's already gotten a crash course on what it takes to recruit on the east coast.

And I'll say this as well. If Richard Pitino Jr ends up going to a place like Boston University and takes them to the NCAA Tournament or something like that, he would immediately move into my very short list for the next head coach at Notre Dame. And I bet if ND came calling, he'd be listening. The whole Pitino family loves ND, and I think Rick Sr. would really encourage his son to take a look at ND if it ever came to that point.

Tell me you wouldn't get weak at the knees to see a young Richard Pitino Jr. pacing that sideline in South Bend in those Italian suits with the hair slicked back in about 5-6 years and bringing in tough NYC kids who can go to the rack and D up. I'm giddy just thinking about it.

5) Tiger - Tiger Woods is not human. Unreal. The man does not miss putts when he needs them to drop. Even if he never wins another major, he's already the greatest putter of all time.

4) Lebron - Speaking of great ones, Lebron James showed up at his high school's state championship game in Columbus on Saturday and sat behind the bench. I guess it was St. Vincent/St. Mary's first appearance in the Division II title game since he had graduated, so he drove down for the game. SVSM won, and Lebron was celebrating with the team after the game. And the best part is that he wore his high school letter jacket!! That is awesome. I love Lebron. How cool would that be to play in your high school title game with Lebron sitting right there cheering and going crazy??

Great 60 Minutes feature of him as well. After watching that, I'm going on record as saying that Lebron is retiring as a Cleveland Cavalier. I couldn't make up my mind on whether he was leaving, but he's just not that kind of guy. Lebron knows how much he means to everyone in northeast Ohio, and his friends from Akron are basically running his company. I can't see him leaving Cleveland.

3) ND in the NIT - I don't want to belittle our fanbase for getting into the NIT run, but come on. Can people just stop with the "an NIT title would be as good as a Sweet 16 run" talk?? That's laughable. In my eyes, we could win ten NIT titles, and it wouldn't match up with one NCAA tournament appearance even if we got blown out in the first round. Just making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team is an accomplishment in an itself. If you make the NCAAs, you've had a good season. And if you go to the Sweet 16, you've had a GREAT season. Playing in the NIT means you've already had a disappointing year no matter what you do in the event. The NIT is a glorified exhibition event. Half the teams in the field could care less. Can anyone say that about the NCAA Tournament??

Winning the NIT is better than going out in the first round of the NIT, but it's the equivalent of a baseball team that is 20 games out of first place on September 1 that goes 20-10 in September and "only" finishes 12 games out. The strong finish is nice, but it's nothing more than a nice finish to a bad year.

The only way I could ever get interested in the NIT would be if ND had a really young team that struggled for most of the year but really came on strong at the end of the year and made a deep run into the NIT. That's the type of run that can give you a ton of momentum heading into the following year. But this ND team has 6 juniors and seniors on the roster and was ranked in the top 10. Playing in the NIT is not some building block. This team should have made the NCAA Tournament, and I can't get into an NIT appearance for a veteran team.

2) The Kentucky job - While I think there are legitimate questions about Calipari and whether Kentucky has sold their souls to the devil by going after this guy, I think it's a home run hire by Kentucky. John Calipari was probably the one guy out there who is an absolute lock to return Kentucky back to national prominence.

Kentucky NEEDED to make this hire. The only comparable situation that I can think of was the Saban hire at Alabama. Bama was becoming a dying football program, and they were probably one or two bad hires away from getting completely passed up by the other SEC schools. They NEEDED to hit that home run when they fired Mike Shula, and they made it happen with Saban. Now, Bama is back and probably going to be a superpower for the next decade. No matter what you say about Saban being a mercenary, the bottom line is that he wins games and recruits like crazy.

That was pretty much what Kentucky needed to do as well. They were in some danger of becoming a regional school that couldn't recruit at a national level. With Pitino already in state in Louisville and the perception out there that SEC basketball is an inferior product, Kentucky was reaching the point where they really needed to get a home run A lister to put them back on the map. The elite guys were signing with Duke and Kansas and North Carolina but not really looking at Kentucky. Guys like John Wall were looking at Memphis instead of Kentucky. They needed to change that before that perception got worse.

Calipari changes all that. Maybe he's shady with this Worldwide Wes guy locking up his talent through suspicious methods, but I think that is probably overblown. At the end of the day, these guys are coming to play for Calipari because he wins games and gets them to the NBA. Calipari is going to sell the school and go after the best players. With a guy like Calipari in the fold, UK is probably going to be able to compete with the Kansas' and UNC's and Duke's and Louisville's of the world. They consistently have lost to those teams in OOC games under Gillespie and Tubby Smith in the last 5-6 years. That could all change with Calipari.

Lexington is a classy town and not particularly flashy, but I think UK fans like the basketball program to be flashy and glamorous. They want a coach who recruits Burger Boys and plays up tempo and wears fancy suits. Even though Tom Izzo is a better coach than Calipari and also a better guy who appeals to their types of values, I bet most UK fans would prefer Calipari to Izzo. Maybe it's the horse racing culture in Lexington that attracts them to flashier guys like Calipari. If you asked me, I'd take Izzo. I can't possibly think of a better representative for your school than Tom Izzo, and he's probably the finest game prep coach in the country. But UK fans seem to want to relive the Pitino days, and they have zeroed in on Calipari as the guy to bring back their swagger.

Sounds like Calipari might bring all those stud recruits from Memphis with him. Wall, Cousins, and Henry were the Rivals #1-3 players in America. If you add those three to Patterson and Meeks and the recruits that Gillespie had signed, they could be a top 5 team as soon as next year. Who else would have that much talent?? There would be like 5-6 NBA players on that roster.

As for Calipari, I think it's a great move for him as well. Even though he's had a ton of success at Memphis, isn't it tainted by the fact that he's done it at Memphis?? Who cares if he beat Southern Miss? If he ever wants to be considered one of the all-time great coaches, he needs to get it done at a BCS school. I think he needed to make a move out of Memphis at some point, and what better place to do it than Kentucky.

By the way, I've heard a lot of people saying that Calipari shouldn't take the Kentucky job because "the fans are nuts." If that is the perception out there nationally, it couldn't be more wrong. Kentucky fans aren't crazy. They just demand excellence. Believe me, when Pitino was the head coach at Kentucky, no one complained about him when he lost. Pitino was a god in the entire state of Kentucky when he was at UK. Kentucky fans will worship you if you win big and recruit big. Kentucky fans never embraced Tubby because he never recruited at an elite level. Fans got tired of him signing a bunch of 2 and 3 star players while UNC and Duke signed all the elite players. He hurt the overall perception of the program, and fans got tired of it. They weren't being unrealistic. They just didn't think Tubby was performing up to the level of expectation that comes with the Kentucky job and thought someone else out there could do better. I'm fine with that, and it turns out that they were right. If Tubby was still at UK these days, he would have struggled just as much as Gillespie did.

Now they have Calipari, and I think Kentucky will return to prominence in the very near future. I hope it happens.

1) WEISND power poll

Only four teams left, so here's how I see them as we head into the Final Four weekend:

4) Villanova
3) Michigan State
2) North Carolina
1) Connecticut

2 comments:

Matt said...

The best sign of Izzo as a great coach is that he is 14-2 during his career in the second game of a tournament weekend. The only losses were to #1 seeds (2003 Texas - game in San Antonio, 2007 UNC - game in Greensboro). With only one day to prepare, he outcoaches everyone.

Brey could learn from Izzo - you build a team around defense and rebounding and you can steal some games when the shots aren't falling. Its about effort, not practice facilities.

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