Holly Warlick faces impossible task in replacing Pat Summitt

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Good luck to Holly Warlick. Coaching one of the premier women’s college hoops programs is hard enough.

Replacing a legend? That’s almost impossible.

But that’s what Warlick will face as she replaces Pat Summitt as the Tennessee coach.

By all accounts, the longtime Vols assistant is certainly qualified. She played for Summitt, has been an assistant for 27 years and assumed the bulk of Summitt’s duties last season. Warlick was the one often talking to the media and taking the lead during practice.

She’ll probably do just fine, too. Warlick has the full support of the Tennessee athletic department and Summitt’s blessing.

“I feel like Holly’s been doing the bulk of it,’’ Summitt told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “She deserves to be the head coach. I’m going to support her. No doubt, I’ll be there for her.”

Summitt, 59, isn’t going anywhere – her new title is head coach emeritus – and will continue to help the program recruit, analyze practices and games and chime in on meetings. But that hardly takes away the pressure from following Summitt, the most important figure in women’s college basketball history, not to mention the winningest coach ever. Replace a coach who was 1,098-208 in her career with 16 SEC titles, 18 Final Fours and 8 national championships?

That’s not possible. The best you can do is continue that success. And even that will be a challenge.

“We will work as hard as we possibly can with the goal of hanging more banners in Thompson-Boling Arena,” Warlick said.

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Is there even a proper comparison for Warlick? By my reckoning, there are four coaches who followed larger-than-life figures in the men’s game.

Gene Bartow replaced John Wooden at UCLA. Joe B. Hall followed Adolph Rupp at Kentucky. Bill Guthridge stepped into Dean Smith’s job. Mike Davis was the man who coached Indiana after Bob Knight. None of them came close to matching their predecessors, though it should be noted that all of them won at least one conference title and reached a Final Four. Hall even won a title.

But all of them fell short of the high standards set by their predecessors. How could they not?

Perhaps Warlick can thrive and keep the Vols among the elite women’s programs. Tennessee hasn’t won a title since 2008 or been to a Final Four since then, but it has plenty of talent and support. Wish her luck.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

As good as they’ve been, No. 3 Michigan State has yet to play their best

Bryn Forbes, Ryan Fazekas
Associated Press
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Sunday night’s Wooden Legacy title game matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence was billed as a matchup of the nation’s two best players, and rightfully so. Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine (17 points, six rebounds, five assists), who already has two triple-doubles to his credit this season, and Providence redshirt junior Kris Dunn (21 points, five rebounds, seven assists) have more than lived up to the preseason expectations and more of the same was expected in Anaheim.

And while both had their moments, it was Michigan State’s supporting cast that made the difference in their 77-64 victory. The scary thing for future opponents on Michigan State’s schedule is that Tom Izzo’s team is nowhere near being a finished product.

With Valentine dealing with first-half foul trouble Bryn Forbes stepped up, scoring 13 of his 18 points to help the Spartans take a two-point lead into the half. As for the 11-0 run that Michigan State produced to take control of the game late, a host of players stepped forward in regards to scoring, rebounding and defending.

Freshmen Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid combined to score nine points over the final 5:32, with transfer guard Eron Harris adding six of his 12 points during that stretch. The Spartans outscored the Friars, who aren’t as deep, 22-7 during that stretch to close out the game, hunting for quality shots and hitting the offensive glass while making things difficult for Providence on the other end of the floor.

The end result was a final margin that does not indicate just how close the game was. While Providence seemed to run out of steam Michigan State received contributions from multiple players, which is undoubtedly a good sign for this group moving forward.

The Spartans will return the currently injured Gavin Schilling later this season, giving them another big man alongside Davis, Matt Costello and Colby Wollenman. He was a player they missed Sunday night, as he can defend opposing big men both in the post and on the perimeter. His absence was a main reason Michigan State didn’t have an answer for Providence’s Ben Bentil (20 points, seven rebounds) defensively.

The key for this group is going to end up being role definition, which is especially true in the case of Harris. A transfer from West Virginia, Harris came to East Lansing with the reputation of being a big time scorer. He’s struggled through the first two weeks of the season, but he got on a roll on Sunday night, finishing with 12 points, three boards and three assists. He showed he’s capable of doing a variety of things on the perimeter, and fitting into a “Swiss army knife” kind of role would make Michigan State that much more dangerous.

There’s no denying that Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams thus far.

But there’s also no denying that the Spartans have yet to hit their ceiling, which is definitely a positive moving forward.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.