Determining the coach of the year depends on how you interpret the award

Leave a comment

Normally, I couldn’t care less about any national coach of the year award.

It’s an honor that usually goes to the guy whose team overachieved, and that team is usually fairly easy to identify.

Last season San Diego State’s Steve Fischer took home the Naismith version of the award. To approach it like a TV producer pitching a show to a major executive, the Aztecs were the “little guy that competed with the big guy and were led by another guy who found happiness coaching the little guy after a scandal marred his years coaching the big guy.”

The knock on all this, however, is that the Aztecs were sort of supposed to be good last season.

This season they weren’t, but somehow find themselves in the top 25 once again.  If anything, 2011-2012 is Fischer’s best coaching campaign, but too many stronger candidates push him down the list of nominations.

Not only are there an inordinately high number of valid candidates, together they provide us with a variety of reasons why they should be part of the discussion  The winner will likely be the coach whose story prevailed as the most interesting among voters.

So who are they?

To start, we must look at the work being done by Missouri’s Frank Haith.

Remember back in April when his hiring was lambasted by Tiger fans and alumni?

“This would be like if someone hired Quin Synder away from us,” the quasi-famous quote goes.

Today, Haith leads the nation’s most exciting team; enjoying a level of success that is exceeding expectations and erasing the name “Mike Anderson” from the minds of Tiger fans. For voters, he can play the angle that things were so bad at Miami that even the greatest of coaching minds couldn’t propel that program to the top.

Haith deserves some votes. He could get my vote if I had one, but maybe all this newfound success is really nothing more than being placed in a good situation. Remember, Haith didn’t recruit Ricardo Ratliffe, or the team’s prolific backcourt. He isn’t responsible for his team’s cohesion, either.  He really may have only implemented a system that suits the personnel better than what his predecessor had in place.

That in itself is laudable, yes, but just how responsible is he for the 2011-2012 Missouri Tigers?

Is it enough to warrant hardware?

Moving north, we have to consider a pair of Big East coaches.

First, you have Mike Brey.

Unquestionably, the reigning AP Coach of the Year has spearheaded one of the most impressive efforts to get to the top third in the standings of a major college basketball conference in recent memory.

This fall, Brey had to crowdsurf just to get fans into the Joyce Center. Then he lost his star guard Tim Abromaitis and was left with a bevy of role players and not a lot of scoring. So Brey decided to slow the game down, and was able to position his players on the court where they could still score.

Now, the Irish are a tournament lock, boasting wins against Syracuse, Marquette and Louisville even though the roster is made up of players who may not even be talented enough to play overseas upon graduation.

Where the argument for Brey breaks down is based on what lies ahead.  Most COY recipients (Brey, ironically being the most recent exception to the rule) play at least into the second weekend of the tournament.

The Irish may not get that far, thus making it unlikely for Brey to repeat as AP Coach of the year.

Jim Boeheim, however, will coach deep in to the tournament, and marching to a 20-0 start on the heels of the firing of a long-time assistant coach is an excellent anecdote for his application.

Whether or not the Bernie Fine sexual abuse allegations really served as a distraction is undetermined, but Boeheim’s body of work goes far beyond overcoming that scandal.

The real argument for Boeheim, which has turned into a joke, is that the Orange don’t have one go-to guy. Regardless about how you project their tournament hopes based on this trait, it should speak to the teamwork and selflessness this team possesses.  Guys like Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters could be all-league if there was less talent around them, and this culture was fostered entirely by the game’s third all-time winningest coach.

Boeheim is in a great position to win either of the national coach of the year awards because he took a good pre-season team and made them great, and the award should be his if the Orange finish the regular season with only one conference loss.

Deviating from name brand coaches, no coach of the year discussion would be complete without a nod to the unknown coach that’s exceeding expectations at a mid-major school. So where does Murray State’s Steve Prohm fit?

Undefeated until last week, Prom’s Racers fell from everybody’s favorite team that was sure to get underseeded by the committee to being flung onto the bubble by skeptics.

After 13 years as a Division I assistant, including five at Murray State, Prohm is in position to pull a Keno Davis by taking a true mid-major to the Sweet 16, earn COY honors, then bolt for a BCS program with a bigger budget.

Who knows what the fate of the Racers will be this season. Despite maintaining an unblemished record through early February, it was clear this team wasn’t playing that well leading up to their first loss.

They could lose another Ohio Valley game, or to Saint Mary’s on Saturday, or even during Championship Week. Whatever the case, Prohm’s situation places him squarely on the bubble for this award and one more loss eliminates him from contention.

So all this, and we’re left with the most polarizing character in all of college basketball: John Calipari.

Part of me thinks that Cal is currently trending up as the choice around the country, but that might just be because Big Blue Nation is the loudest fan base in the nation.

But Kentucky is a Christian Watford buzzer-beating three-pointer shy of playing for an undefeated regular season late into Feburary, and that’s historic.

Contrary to what the haters say, Calipari’s methodology of selling elite high school players on his one-and-done program, and working them for six months before sending them to the NBA is not easy. Each fall Cal is tasked with melding egos and accelerating the maturation of teenagers. He has to quickly learn what motivational tactics will work and which will mentally fatigue a player. What drives DeMarcus Cousins may not resonate with Marquis Teague, and Calipari doesn’t have a lot of time to figure that out.

Over the past two seasons, the learning curve has become less steep, and Calipari seems to be getting the hang of optimizing his program. He’s become more methodical, and a better coach this season based on what he went through in years one and two at Kentucky.

If you can appreciate that body of work, and if Kentucky remains a National Championship favorite entering mid-March, he may leapfrog all the aforementioned coaches for the award.

So who is the coach of the year? Well, that all depends on how you interpret the distinction.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

Getty Images
4 Comments

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.