Joakim Noah

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.

Kentucky and North Carolina could make NBA draft history Thursday night

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Kentucky and North Carolina are poised to make history at Thursday night’s NBA draft.

Both teams will likely see four players selected in the first round, marking the first time since the NBA debuted its two-round format in 1989 that two teams have accounted for eight of the total picks in the first round.

The night should begin with Kentucky blue, as Anthony Davis is projected as the No. 1 overall pick to the New Orleans Hornets. Teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should follow shortly thereafter to Charlotte at No. 2 or Washington at No. 3.

Sophomore forward Terrence Jones should be selected somewhere at the end of the lottery or in the middle of the first round. Guard Marquis Teague will likely be selected toward the later end of the first round.

Kentucky is sending six players total, with Doron Lamb and Darius Miller included, but not all are projected to go in the first round.

“My hope is all six, but I don’t know,” Calipari told SI.com earlier this month. “I would be surprised if four are not. I would say four are locks and the other two have to go work out.”

For North Carolina, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and Kendall Marshall are all likely going in the first round.

Barnes will lead the pack, with Henson, Zeller and Marshall following.

The only time in recent memory that two teams came close to supplying four players each in the first round was in 2007, when Florida and Ohio State both had three players chosen.

Included in that draft were Joakim Noah, Greg Oden, and Al Horford.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Comparing Kentucky to other champs who replaced everything

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Now the all five of Kentucky’s underclassmen stars are officially headed to the NBA (along with senior Darius Miller), it’s time to marvel at the production coach John Calipari must now replace.

Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague and Miller represented93 percent of the Wildcats’ scoring, 94 percent of their rebounds, 95 percent of their blocks, 96 percent of their steals and 96 percent of their assists. Those are simply staggering numbers, per Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal. (He has a complete listing of those totals and by player.)

It’s not anything new for a champion to lose a hefty amount of production. In just the last 10 years, at least four teams have been in the same position.

The 2005 Tar Heels lost their top seven scorers (Sean May, Rashad McCant, Ray Felton, Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams and Jackie Manuel), but those players “only” accounted for 84 percent of the team’s scoring. (David Noel and Reyshawn Terry managed to get on the scoreboard.) Those seven did account for massive amounts of rebounds (93 percent), but nothing else was above 83.

When Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Bobby Frasor and Danny Green, it wasn’t nearly the same amount of attrition.

Kansas lost 80 percent of its scoring from its 2008 title team (Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun), but returned a sixth man in Sherron Collins and a big man who played a key role in the Final Four in Cole Aldrich.

Even the back-to-back Florida champs didn’t have replace as much even though it also lost its six top players (Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, Chris Richard and Corey Brewer). Those six accounted for 83 percent of the scoring, 77 percent of the rebounds, 81 percent of the assists, 81 percent of the steals and 87 percent of the blocks. (Having Marreese Speights, Walter Hodge and Dan Werner helps).

Kentucky will probably be similar to ’06 UNC and Kansas. Both of those teams made the NCAA tournament the following season (Kansas was 27-8, won the Big 12 and reached the Sweet 16; UNC was 23-8 and second in the ACC). Florida (24-12) and the 2010 Tar Heels (20-17)  were in the NIT. The Wildcats’ incoming class – which will likely still add another impact newcomer – has elite players ready to step in at every position. And we’ve already learned that Calipari excels at replacing entire rosters.

It’ll undoubtedly look different, though. When you’re replacing everything, that can’t be helped.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Kansas’ Bill Self thinks Jeff Withey is 2nd-best shotblocker in country

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One year ago, Jeff Withey was a rarely utilized seven-footer who averaged close to two points in six minutes per game. Excuse me for sounding like a nostalgic grandparent for a moment, but they grow up so fast, don’t they?

Withey was integral in Kansas’ 64-62 win over Ohio State on Saturday night in New Orleans, which punched the Jayhawks’ ticket to the national title game and a date with No. 1 Kentucky.

The San Diego native finished with four points, eight rebounds, and seven blocks.

“My teammates definitely look at me and see me as a protector,” Withey said after the game. “They know if they get beat, I’m there.  I’m there to help them block shots.”

The monstrous seven-block performance gives him 27 total blocks in the NCAA tournament, two shy of the record 29, set in 2006 by Florida’s Joakim Noah.

Kansas’ next opponent, Kentucky, features a player who is also inching his way up that list, having blocked 23 shots in this NCAA tournament: AP Player of the Year Anthony Davis.

Anthony Davis is the best shot blocker in the country, but I think Jeff is probably second best,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “I don’t know anybody out there that blocks shots or alters better than Jeff does.  So you’re going to have two great shot‑blockers going against each other.”

And he showed on Saturday night why his coach and many others hold him in such high regard.

Withey was the main reason why Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger never found his rhythm, going 5-for-19 from the field and only shooting four total free throws.

But Monday night in New Orleans may be a wholly different experience against Davis and the Wildcats, and Withey recognizes that.

“It’s going to be a lot different because Anthony Davis…he gets a lot of points off of lobs in transition,” said Withey. “It’s going to be a lot different guarding them, but it’s going to be a challenge that I enjoy playing. I just got to get ready for the game and be in shape.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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.