Gilbert Arenas

Debate!: Who you got? Lute Olson or Jim Calhoun

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In 2008, Lute Olson retired from coaching at the ripe old age of 74, having spent the past 25 years taking Arizona from a West Coast afterthought and turning them into a national championship program that was a mainstay in the top 25 through the majority of his tenure. Just four years later, Jim Calhoun retired from UConn having built the Huskies into one of the nation’s premier basketball programs when no one believed it could be. 

Both Calhoun and Olson single-handedly built programs from the ground up and turned them into national players in locations where basketball wasn’t a priority. But here’s the question of the hour: who was more impressive? Whose is the better “program builder”? Raphielle and I will now do our best sports bar impression and argue this out. Hopefully, things stay peaceful. 

Rob: UConn basketball was nothing prior to Jim Calhoun arriving on campus from Northeastern in 1986. In their seven seasons in the Big East up to that point, UConn had managed to make just a single NCAA tournament and, when Calhoun was hired, were coming off of 9-19 season. Within four years, Calhoun had managed to win the NIT, take home the Big East regular season and tournament titles, and advance to within a Christian Laettner buzzer-beater from the Final Four. As of his Thursday retirement, UConn had won 10 regular season conference titles, seven conference tournament titles, made four Final Fours and taken home three national championships. Those 25 years are packed with more history and tradition than all but a handful of programs have managed to put together since James Naismith invented the sport.

Raphielle: When Lute Olson arrived in Tucson in 1983 the Wildcats were just five years removed from joining the then-Pac-10, and it would be an understatement to say that the Wildcats he found weren’t equipped to be a factor in the conference. That changed quickly. He took a team that won four games with little talent and pushed them to 11 in his first campaign, and from that point forward Olson would fail to reach 20 wins in a season just twice: 1986-87 and 2007-08. Like Calhoun with Bridgeport’s Chris Smith, Olson’s most important recruiting victory early on was keeping Tucson native Sean Elliott in the Old Pueblo. By the time Elliott was a junior (Olson’s fifth season) the Wildcats were in their first Final Four. From that point forward it was almost as if Olson ran a conveyer belt from McKale Center to the NBA, and a number of those players had a tangible impact at the next level. Olson won 608 games in his 25 seasons at Arizona, which works out to an average of 24 wins per season (24.3 to be exact), 11 Pac-10 championships, five Final Four appearances and a national title in 1997. And we can’t gloss over him taking the Wildcats to 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances (yes 1999 was vacated but that’s a bit silly) either.

Rob: I’ll give you consistency. The fact that Olson was able to get Arizona to 23 straight NCAA tournaments is downright mystifying. Calhoun had some ugly season mixed in with his national titles. But the key word in that sentence is “titles”. Plural. Calhoun won three of them, and while there may be some element of luck when it comes to his 3-0 record in national title games, the fact of the matter is that Calhoun was able to capitalize when he had the talent on his roster.

And while Olson’s track record of getting players to the NBA is inarguable, it’s not like Calhoun was winning with future all-Euroleague players. He sent just as many players to the next level. What’s most impressive about Calhoun’s pros is that there weren’t many that entered the program as guaranteed lottery picks. Andre Drummond was a pro, everyone knew that. The same with Rudy Gay and Charlie Villanueva. But Jeremy Lamb wasn’t a top 10 recruit. Ray Allen was overlooked coming out of high school, and he went on to become the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA. Emeka Okafor chose UConn over Vanderbilt and Arkansas and went on to become national player of the year and the No. 2 pick. Ben Gordon was the No. 3 pick that year, and he was closer to a top 50 recruit than he was a guaranteed NBA all-star.

Raphielle: Oh here we go with the “titles” talk. Yes titles are important, there’s no denying that. But let me ask you something: which power forward are you taking, Robert Horry (7 titles) or Charles Barkley (0 titles)? There’s the flaw in that argument, because winning a championship involves a certain level of luck in addition to skill. Were there a few forgettable “one and done” trips for Olson? Yes, but to get your team to the tournament for 23 straight years is a major achievement. And in those 23 trips the Wildcats’ average seed was a 4-seed (4.4 to be exact).

As for the NBA talent we can argue that one all night as both programs have sent many players to the NBA to not just occupy a roster space but make things happen. But which school is known as “Point Guard U”? I’ve got love for Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury and Travis Best but we’re not talking Georgia Tech here. That would be Arizona, with players such as Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Jason Terry, Mike Bibby and Jason Gardner have run the show at one point or another. When it comes to “unexpected” pros, how many thought Gilbert Arenas would become what he was (pre-idiotic gun incident) when he was in high school? And he’s got a nice list of off-guards/wings when looking at players such as Richard Jefferson, Andre Iguodala and Miles Simon (just to name three).

Rob: The Robert Horry-Charles Barkley comparison isn’t fair. Players are much different than coaches. The better comparison, in my opinion, would be who would you rather have coaching your team in the NBA: Pat Riley or Lenny Wilkens?

There’s no denying Olson’s success with point guards (can’t believe you didn’t mention Kenny Lofton in with that group). That also just so happens to be the only position where UConn doesn’t have a storied history when it comes to producing NBA players.

Thus far, we’ve determined that Olson was really good at putting together teams that earned four seeds and sent point guards to the NBA while Calhoun could develop off-guards, wings and big men while building teams that won titles. That right?

Raphielle: Pat Riley was the epitome of smooth, so I’ll give you that argument. I didn’t mention Lofton because he went pro in baseball; I’d think that his raw athleticism (didn’t play baseball until his junior year and ended up getting drafted despite limited PT) had more to do with that.

And I notice that you conveniently left out Olson’s title in your wrapping up of the discussion. That suddenly not count? Yes Calhoun has more, that’s been established, but do we really just say “well Lute produced point guards and 4-seeds”? Winning titles is about luck in another aspect: recruiting. If your school produces guards at a higher rate it’s going to be tougher land the elite big men that generally win titles at the college level (Duke 2010 being the most recent exception). Just ask Villanova’s 2006 team what happened when they ran into Joakim Noah, Al Horford and company. But back to Arizona, in the Final Four trips they lost the Wildcats ran into Stacey King (1988), Corliss Williamson (1994) and Carlos Boozer (2001). Those great big men at the pro level? Hell no, but they were damn good in college. All I’m saying is that in a one-and-done scenario you have to be careful to completely gloss over how much of a crapshoot the tournament is.

Rob: Changing gears a bit, the most interesting part about the debate between Calhoun vs. Olson is how similar their exits were. Both found themselves caught up in NCAA red tape (Calhoun because of Nate Miles and the APR, Olson because of the Cactus Classic) while battling health issues, which eventually became too much and resulted in a September retirement.

The difference, however, is that UConn ended up with Calhoun’s “coach-in-waiting” — Kevin Ollie — getting a chance at the job, while Mike Dunlap couldn’t work things out with the Arizona brass to take over for Olson. It worked out for the Wildcats, however, as their interim coach led them to the Sweet 16 (quite Olson-esque, eh?) before Sean Miller took over and became arguably the best recruiter in the country this side of Coach Cal.

More institutional pull = better coach, right?

Raphielle: Yeah but Calhoun also finished out “in his office” so to speak, so I wouldn’t be so quick to make that correlation. More difficult to have a say when you’re not around on a consistent basis. That led to Olson not getting his wish of Dunlap being the man more than anything. Arizona mishandled that situation for three years and frankly lucked out that Sean Miller was available (oh, he landed Rondae Jefferson today). And Ollie got a 1-year contract, which while it’s something that he’s more than used to given his NBA career it’s not the best situation to have on the recruiting trail. So sure Calhoun “won” in getting his guy the job, but we’re really not going to know how big of a win it is until next March when their season ends and Ollie is evaluated.

So who’s got the “juice”? Guess we’ll agree to disagree on this one.

The Morning Mix

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– Mike DeCourcy has a plan that will help clean up the recruiting world, and I kinda like it. Banning “unofficial visits” lessens the likelihood of potential schemes, dubious transactions or any of a variety of NCAA violations

– Eric Angevine profiles a few of the programs holding open tryouts for walk-on players

– In the wake of ESPN’s very well done “50 in 50” series profiling the top-50 programs of the las 50 years, Big Apple Buckets tries to determine the best Metro-area school of the past half century

– The title “student-athlete” is slipping by the wayside. Any rule change that calls for a general manager to run a college team would mean the extinction of the “student-athlete” is clearly in sight

– Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote Monday’s #ReadoftheDay, a gripping article on Rick Majerus and the coach’s will to live. The long-time head coach announced over the weekend that he will miss the entire season because of serious reoccurring health issues

– I’m no Political Expert, but it sure does look like California legislature is trying to pass a law that would require state universities to compensate student-athletes (But again, I could be very wrong. After all, I did vote Gilbert Arenas and Clinton Portis in 2008. No, seriously, I did)

– Is Ray McCallum the most impactful player in the Horizon League? He must be, right? Wrong. Run The Floor tells us who their top-25 impact players in the Horizon League are

– Speaking of impact players, Xavier-transfer Mark Lyons has made an early one at his new home in Arizona

– Long Beach State added some “Beach” to their homecourt hardwood. Much more visually appealing than Oregon’s failed attempt at a Jackson Pollock rendering

– Were the Kansas Jayhawks overlooking the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2011-2012 National Championship game? I hope they didn’t because that would have been foolish

– This is certain to get blown out of proportion in the weeks leading up to the game: North Carolina will play at Duke on Coach-K’s birthday

– The Drexel Dragons were the final team left on the wrong side of the bubble last March. But head coach Bruiser Flint is hoping a strong non-conference schedule will help the Dragons lock up a tournament bid in 2012-2013

– How would the 2012-2013 Kentucky Wildcats squad have fared against the 2011-2012 brackets

– UConn-transfer Roscoe Smith will take a redshirt season at UNLV

– UNLV-transfer Reggie Smith is headed to Eastern Illinois 

– Charles Carmouche, formerly of Memphis and New Orleans, will transfer to LSU. The guard received a medical red shirt last year and fulfilled his graduation requirements, meaning he can transfer and not have to sit out a year

– Top South Florida recruit Waverly Austin was denied eligibility and will attempt to enroll at another university

– Top-100 forward Kris Jenkins declared for Villanova

– You may have already seen this, but in case you didn’t: Marcus Jordan was forced to pay a $250 fine for disturbing the peace, a shrage which stemmed from an altercation he got in to in July, while attending the U.S Olympic swim trials in Omaha. (What on Earth is Marcus Jordan, the son of “His Airness”, doing at the U.S. Olympic swim trials?) Seriously, Baby Jordan just can’t seem to stay out of the news. One day, somebody will write a thrilling piece about all of Marcus’ public mishaps and the parallels in his father. It will be glorious

– Coastal Carolina freshman guard Ronald Trapp injured his leg during a game of pickup hoops. That’s a crappy way to go down

– One of our friends from the other side of the planet provides a solid list of some potential breakout players that nobody is really talking about. I like the DeAndre Daniels and Nick Faust mentions

An awesome short-film on the drive, determination and work ethic of Delaware standout sophomore Jarvis Threatt

Remember, if you find an article that is worthy of being in The Morning Mix, be sure to use the #ReadoftheDay hashtag on Twitter. 

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

College basketball scheduling is harder than you think

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On Tuesday afternoon, ESPN rolled out a package of three lengthy article that broke down, in detail, just about everything that you will need to know about college basketball and how non-conference schedules get built.

Andy Katz took a look at how non-conference schedules get built at different levels of the game, Myron Medcalf wrote about the death of the home game and Eamonn Brennan put together a list of the top non-conference matchups that need to remain now that realignment has been finalized for the 2012-2013 season.

And while much of what is written is great reading material for hardcore hoops junkies, none of it is really all that revealing. We know that the bigger schools don’t want to play on the road against mid-majors, especially good mid-majors that would hurt their RPI with a loss. We know that the nation’s marquee programs are looking to play more and more games in NBA arenas and NFL stadiums. We know that money, exposure and the number of TV sets they can get on takes priority over things like longstanding rivalries and the nation’s top three teams playing each other. (Insert snide, passive-aggressive remarks aimed at Tom Crean and John Calipari here.)

The most telling quote, however, came from Medcalf’s story:

Missouri coach Frank Haith said he’s talked to Arizona’s Sean Miller about a future matchup between the two schools. Arizona and Missouri could establish an enticing Pac 12-SEC rivalry. But they probably will play those games on neutral sites, Haith said.

Haith understands the concerns of fans who want more good home games during the nonconference season. It’s not, however, that simple to produce them, he said.

“You’re not going to get those teams to come to Missouri or wherever to play,” he said. “You can’t just play all buy games at your place, and you’re not going to get a lot of those teams to do a home-and-home at your place. That’s what the game has gotten to.”

Sean Miller collected as much talent on the Wildcat’s roster as we’ve seen in Tucson since the days of Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson and Jason Gardner. Frank Haith has built Missouri back into a regional power, one that will be competing for SEC titles for at least the next couple of seasons. Both programs would be well served with playing each other, and there is little doubt that fans and TV executives alike would be benefited if the series takes place.

But would anyone be surprised if the games take place in Pheonix and Kansas City instead of Columbia and Tucson?

I sure wouldn’t.

And while it may not be ideal, getting the two teams together in a neutral court setting is better than seeing Arizona play Northern Arizona and Missouri play UMKC at home. (Insert more snide, passive-aggressive remarks aimed at Tom Crean and John Calipari here.)

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Seven stereotypes that explain why Syracuse is so elite

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Last week I had the pleasure of seeing the No. 1 team in the country up close and personal. It may have only been two games, but to watch this team from the baseline, to listen to coach Jim Boeheim speak after the game, and to see what fuels this team left no doubt in my mind they’re truly elite.

Assuming Butler doesn’t cut through another slew of elite programs, discerning between the handful of teams we’ve identified as “title contenders” suggests no clear favorite. If you can get to the final game in New Orleans, anything can happen.

With that, here’s the most compelling case for Syracuse to be one of two teams left standing by April 6, with seven stereotypes often found on National Championship winning or runner-up clubs, based on my in-person observations from the past week.  

The unassuming star: Brandon Triche

          Similar to: Nolan Smith (Duke, 2010); Jamar Butler (Ohio State, 2007)

If Planet Earth is invaded by aliens or a meteor threatens humanity, I’m hunting down Triche and following his lead. He’s incredibly calm – unwavering really – and efficient on the offensive end. “We have a bunch of go-to guys, not just one,” Jim Boeheim said after his team’s win over Providence.

That may be true, but Triche is at least the Orange’s go-to guy when they need a bucket most, and he’s head and shoulders above his peers in terms of basketball IQ.

The upperclassman leader: Kris Joseph

          Similar to: Kyle Singler (Duke, 2010); Brandon Rush (Kansas, 2008)

Arguably the game’s best senior, KrisJo has enhanced his offensive skill set since last season, improving his 3-point percentage (42.6) even though he’s shooting more of them per game. He’s the center of every team huddle, and has the biggest smile on his face whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Every championship winning team has a face that camera’s can’t pan away from. Joseph has the most raw talent on this roster, and he seems to be having the most fun out  there. He’s revel as a leader come March.

The super sophomore: Dion Waiters

          Similar to: Arron Afflalo (UCLA, 2006); Gilbert Arenas (Arizona, 2001)

Filling out the Orange’s talented backcourt rotation is Waiters, who appears to be the only NBA Lottery pick of the bunch. In person, Waiters almost impossible to contain for multiple possessions. Where Triche and Scoop Jardine have little problem beating their man off the dribble, Waters can do that and also slice through the second layer of defense to get a lay-up or dump pass to a big man.

At third in the conference in steals, despite committing only 1.5 fouls a game, Waiters is also a savvy defensive player. Unless there’s an injury, Waiters should never start a game.  For the only “Major Contributor” on this team to come off the bench must frighten opposing coaches.

The sophomore who’s growing up: Fab Melo

          Similar to: Joakim Noah (Florida, 2006)

Alright let’s all admit the Melo is sort of an awkward dude. He has a propensity to foul, looks like Eeyore, and always seems to run with extreme caution. But for Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone to be effective, it must be long down low. His success is integral to this team’s success, especially as Boeheim shortens his rotation and limits Rakeem Christmas’ minutes.

The maturation of Melo is still in progress, but you rarely get a polished seven-footer right out of high school, so I’d say the Brazilian is actually meeting realistic expectations.  

The freshman that would start for any other team: Michael Carter-Williams

          Similar to: Marvin Williams (North Carolina, 2005)

In only five minutes of play against Providence, Carter-Williams scored four points and looked very comfortable in a road atmosphere. Then Brandon Triche hit four consecutive shots  to open the second half, and MWC wasn’t seen from again. He didn’t even step on the floor against Marquette.

“Michael played so good in the first half he probably thought he’d be in there in the second half,” Boeheim said after the Providence win. “But when you’re on the road and you got a guy like Brandon Triche and he makes four in a row, well, it just seems like a good idea to leave him in the game.”

It’s not an issue of talent. Carter-Williams really could start for a bunch of teams in the country. For now, though, he’s the subject of a bar room argument, the player fans point to when explaining to people just how historically this team is.

The fan-favorite bench player: Mookie Jones

          Similar to: Mark Titus (Ohio State, 2007); Wes Miller (North Carolina, 2005)

Once thought of as a soon-to-be-transfer after being buried on the Orange bench, Mookie Jones has stuck around Syracuse and developed into a lovable player that doesn’t really play. Every teammate of Jones has a personalized handshake with the senior forward during the starting line-ups, and Jones himself has publically said he feels like a celebrity on campus.

Basically, he’s your quintessential off-court glue guy who doubles as the human cigar.

The polarizing player: Scoop Jardine

          Similar to: Durrell Summers (Michigan State, 2009); Billy Edelin (Syracuse, 2005)

Last year, Jardine’s decision making was arguably the biggest reason Syracuse did not advance past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. While he’s turning the ball over at a bit higher rate this season, I only counted two (JUST TWO!) ill-advised shots from Scoop during the Providence and Marquette games.

This guy doesn’t have to score for Syracuse to win,  there are too many weapons on offense he can defer to. Every bad shot taken by Scoop is one less opportunity for a good shot a teammate could take later in the possession. Considering the Orange are averaging seven more points a game this season than last, and Jardine is averaging four less points a game, I think this kid is finally coming around –  looking to facilitate first, and score second.

That alone could be the difference that allows this team to win the 2012 National Championship.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. He did not go to Syracuse. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.