Sunday, February 10, 2008

Northwestern could use an LSU coach, but which one?

-Purdue won in Madison on Saturday despite Wisconsin making 30 of 33 free throws (a plus 18 advantage in free throws made.) The thing that sticks out to me in limited viewing of the team is how many steals Purdue gets while playing solid positioning man-to-man. Most of the leaders in steals (think Minnesota and Tennessee) get those steals by using full court pressure. Purdue gets the steals in the half-court set, and I find that all the more impressive. Purdue had 8 key steals in becoming only the second Big Ten team to ever beat Bo Ryan in Madison. (Recap here.) With four freshman and two sophomores leading the team in minutes played, and with no obvious early entrants, Purdue may have multiple Big Ten titles in the future.

-Speaking of steals, Tennessee needed to rely on its best attribute on Saturday, as JaJuan Smith’s steal and bucket in the final seconds pulled off the 2 point victory over LSU. LSU’s slam dunk at the buzzer was disallowed because the ball was still in Chris Johnson’s hand when the light went on. (Recap here.)

-I still can’t believe that LSU let John Brady go in the middle of the season. Yes the team has struggled massively over the last two years, but you would think a Final Four appearance would be worth a little bit more. The vibe I’ve gotten is that people thought the Final Four run was only due to two NBA caliber players, Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis, and not Brady’s coaching ability. Moreover, some credited top recruiter Butch Pierre with bringing those players to LSU and not Brady. If Pierre was bringing in the talent, and Brady wasn’t managing the game well, then Brady was expendable as head coach. In an intriguing twist, Pierre is now being given a chance to coach the team to close out the season. If Pierre has even a little success down the stretch, he could easily be the LSU head coach next year (or become a head coach somewhere else.) Of course the irony was heavy on Saturday when Pierre’s team kept the game close against Tennessee only to make critical game management decisions at the end.

-Elsewhere in the SEC, Vanderbilt and South Carolina exchanged dramatic baskets in the final seconds. Teams with outstanding offenses and poor defenses, like Vanderbilt, are very fun to watch. (Recap here.)

-Ironically on a day when Tennessee and Vanderbilt both won in the closing seconds, they also took over 1st in 2nd among BCS conferences in Pomeroy’s luck rating. Whether their great execution is chance or skill, remains in the eyes of the beholder.

-Prompted in part by the LSU and Texas Tech coaching changes, I’ve finally updated my coach rankings. I want to read through my write-up one more time and I’ll try to post the update in the middle of the week. One comment that comes up in my ratings is how Bill Carmody has not made any progress at Northwestern and how the team actually had more talent when he started than it does today. With the team winless in the Big Ten and showing no obvious signs of improvement, I don’t see how Carmody can survive the off-season. However, when I’ve mentioned this to people I know, I actually get a completely different response. Many people seem to feel that Northwestern can never bring in talented players, and that they are better off with Carmody’s unorthodox system keeping them competitive.

I think that this is ridiculous. Yes, Northwestern has high academic standards (but so do places like Vanderbilt), terrible facilities (though no worse than some low level Big East schools), no natural recruiting base (since Chicago kids are recruited by everyone), and Northwestern has the worst possible tradition (zero NCAA appearances). But why shouldn’t Northwestern take a chance on someone like Butch Pierre, an uber-talented recruiter with infectious energy. Just look at what Ron Zook did in bringing top recruits to a struggling Illinois football program or how Tim Brewster brought in a top 20 recruiting class this year to Minnesota, despite a 1-11 record. Players today want to be part of something exciting and I truly believe the right coach could revive even the Northwestern basketball program.

As part of the turnaround, I’d recommend Northwestern pony up the cash and start playing all its Big Ten home games at the United Center (ala Georgetown at the Verizon center, or St. John’s playing its biggest games at Madison Square Garden.) It would be costly at first, but with the right coach, the idea of changing the atmosphere could pay big dividends.

Bracketing 101

- I was somewhat amused to see Joe Lunardi as the analyst in Saturday’s game between Old Dominion and George Mason. I would describe Lunardi’s commentary as more descriptive than insightful, but Dick Vitale has made a career doing that, so I’m pleased to see him getting the opportunity. I’m generally critical of Joe because there are a ton of people who can do relatively good bracket projections, but that’s not really fair to Joe. When Lunardi first started publishing his projections on ESPN, he provided a ton of insight into the process, and I certainly learned a lot from him in those first few years. I still believe die-hard fans should look at the numbers themselves rather than depending on someone else’s evaluation, but for casual fans something like the bracket project is exceptionally useful. On that note, I’m definitely looking forward to the upcoming articles describing this year’s media mock selection process. Here is an article from the NCAA itself.

-Finally, The Bracket Board has some nice posts on the final RPI standings for the Bracket Busters, and how the announced pairings varied from what might have been expected.

See you in a few days with the updated coach rankings!