ACC Notes

According to the News & Observer, Julius Hodge is set to make an announcement about whether he’ll leave early for the NBA or return for his senior season. If Hodge is smart, he’ll decide to stay. The smartest choice may be to declare that he wants to test the waters without signing an agent. Then, he can go play in some of the predraft camps, where he’ll find out that the NBA isn’t very interested in him.
update – Hodge announced today that he is staying for his senior year. It’s amazing how much this guy has matured in his years in college. Coming out of high school, you know he never thought he’d play more than a year or two of college ball.
In other NC State news, Mike O’Donnell has decided to transfer. Herb’s merry-go-round continues to spin. O’Donnell was likely never going to be an impact player, but he was a fan favorite and a good guy to go out and hustle, setting a tone for the other players.
Over in Chapel Hill, all of the Big Three have decided to return. That’s probably wise for all of them and certainly great news for UNC. The question now is about their two star recruits, JR Smith and Marvin Williams. According to nbadraft.net, both would be drafted in the first round. Williams has been mentioned as a high draft pick for a while now and Smith got everyone’s attention with some sensational play in recent all-star games. If both decide to go to UNC (and both should as neither looks like he’s quite ready), there will be an awful lot of talent there, even by UNC standards. They could have five sure-fire NBA first-rounders plus a likely second round pick in Jawad Williams. Scary.
Lastly, it looks like the ACC’s disgusting expansion might actually reap new TV money. There were legitimate fears that with TV ratings for sports on the decline and with dividing the money 11 (and then 12) ways, that there would be no windfall. But, according to this article, each team will likely make an extra $700K or so. It’s not clear if that extra money will come in 2004 or not until 2005 when Boston College joins and there is a championship game. Also, ESPN will be showing twice as many games (18) as before. Count on all of those extra games featuring new teams Virginia Tech and Miami.

Mark Cuban Agrees With Me

It looks like my Ban The Charge idea is gaining some steam! Actually it’s just a coincidence, but apparantly, Mark Cuban agrees with the concept. Or at least, half of the concept.
In his blog (who knew he had a blog?), he writes that the NBA should eliminate off the ball defender charges. Those are the ones where a guy who isn’t defending the ball handler slides over and flops.
He makes some good points and obviously he’s in a great position to actually get his idea implemented. Yeah, the NBA generally thinks he’s a nut, but at the same time, he’s great at getting noticed. If he really cares about this issue, and it sounds like he does, he could get people talking about it.

Lefty Chucks the Monkey

That was quite a last round at the Masters today, wasn’t it? Phil Mickelson finally won his first major and needed five birdies in the last seven holes to do it. Unlike recent majors, this one was a fight between top players, with Mickelson beating Ernie Els, the #3 player in the world.
There was a lot of drama on the day, including back-to-back holes-in-one on 16 by Padraig Harrington and Kirk Triplett, but what I liked best of the coverage were two reaction shots of the leaders. First it was that shot of Phil smiling as he came up the 18th fairway. If the pressure was getting to him, as his reputation required you to believe, he wasn’t showing it at all. Actually, he smiled a lot on that back nine; he looked like a regular guy having a great round. The other cool image was the quick shot of Els waiting for Mickelson to finish – would he stay tied, would Mickelson choke or would he steal Ernie’s green jacket? What was Els doing? Calmly munching on an apple like he was having a picnic in the park. I loved that. Those two images said everything about the demeanors of the two guys and how similar they are. The funny thing is that because Els had already won a few majors, he’s known as a laid-back guy who doesn’t get rattled. Mickelson is known as a guy who just doesn’t take golf seriously enough and who chokes at the end.
So, now that Phil Mickelson has finally won a major, what will all the reporters write about? Don’t get me wrong, I like a good “Hefty” joke, especially when you work in a “man breasts” angle, but I was damn sick of all the smug comments about how Phil was basically a loser. I’m talking to you Jim Rome, you jock-sniffing wanna-be. I mean, Mickelson has had a great career, even without having won a major. He was an NCAA and US Amateur champ, he won a Tour event while still in college and had won 22 times on Tour before today. Just because the dice hadn’t rolled his way in the past didn’t make him a loser any more than winning the British Open or PGA made Ben Curtis or Shaun Micheel legendary players.
So, congratulations again to you, Phil Mickelson. You may never win another major, but you’ll never again need to answer questions about why you’ve never won one or when you will.

Congrats to the Huskies

UConn won both the men’s and women’s national championships. Very impressive. I’d enjoy it more if Geno Auriemma weren’t such a smarmy ass.
Of course, with the end of college hoops, we officially hit baseball season on ESPN. Sigh. Three and a half hour snoozefest games followed by endless “highlights” of identical homeruns.
But I don’t want to think about that right now. Let’s look back to last weekend, the Final Four games first.
That Georgia Tech – Oklahoma State game was great. It was close, competitive and well-played; just a fun game to watch. Once again, Jarrett Jack controlled the game for the Yellow Jackets while BJ Elder was ineffective. While Will Bynum got the game winner, Jack was the key. Luke Schenscher was critical as well, getting yet another double-double. Remember when this guy sucked just a month ago? By the way, does anyone else think that he looks a lot like that other red-haired Aussie Nicole Kidman? Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t look like a hot chick, but he could be her brother or cousin or something.

Big Luke Luke's sister?

For the first 30 minutes, the Duke – UConn game was butt ugly. Just awful. The first half had seven more combined fouls and turnovers than made baskets. The game was poorly officiated, but that wasn’t the source of all of the ugliness. The officials didn’t repeatedly throw passes at their teammates feet like Taliek Brown did. Fortunately, the play stepped up in the last ten minutes – at least until Duke choked at the end. And there’s no other way to put it. They choked. They took at least three awful shots down the stretch – stand-still three pointers when they had been effective driving to the hoop. Where was the great point guard Chris Duhon? He should have seized control when things got tight, but he didn’t.
Coach K screwed up too. That play call when Duke was down one – where the play was evidently to have Redick drive the lane and get fouled – was atrocious. You can’t expect to get the call when a guard forces it in amongst the trees, obviously trying to draw the whistle. In the end the better team won, but Duke should have won. They lost their composure though, and when you do that against very good teams, you lose.
The finals were unfortunately a let down after the exciting Saturday games. UConn was again the better team and they played a better game. Tech is lucky they weren’t blown out.
It might have been a game if the Yellow Jackets hadn’t missed seven free throws in the first half, including all three front-ends of one-and-ones. That’s ten potential points! Assuming that a decent team hits about 70%, they should have had seven more points. Those points could have changed the complexion of the game.
The second half was largely ceremonial. In fact, I think I dozed off for a bit. I had a weird dream where Jim Nantz compared Okafor and Schenscher to Ewing and Olajuwon. Talk about your odd dreams.
With the two UConn wins, the Big East ended the tournament with the highest winning percentage. It’s also two straight championships for the Big East after going dry for nearly twenty years. It’s ironic that this resurgence has happened at the same time as the conference is going through such turmoil.
Postseason Performance by Conference:

 

NCAA NIT Total Postseason

Conference

Bids W-L Win % Bids W-L Win % Bids W-L Win %

ACC

6 14-6 .700 2 2-2 .500 8 16-8 .667

Conference USA

6 4-6 .400 2 3-2 .600 8 7-8 .467

Big East

6 12-5 .706 4 9-4 .750 10 21-9 .700

Big Ten

3 3-3 .500 3 5-2 .714 6 8-5 .615

Big Twelve

4 9-4 .692 5 6-4 .600 9 15-8 .652

Pac 10

3 1-3 .250 1 4-1 .800 4 5-4 .556

SEC

6 7-6 .538 3 0-3 .000 9 7-9 .438

The Future Starts on Saturday

Saturday is a very big day in American sports. It could go down as one of the most crucial in American sports history. The Final Four? No. Freddy Adu’s first game of professional soccer.
The expectations on this kid are incredible; he’s only 14 years old, but already the burden on him is beyond what all but a few athletes have ever felt. The only recent athletes with comparable expectations are Tiger Woods and Lebron James, who both lived up to the hype (for Lebron it’s still early, but he’s on track). In many ways, the potential for Adu is much greater than either Tiger or Lebron. Lebron isn’t going to boost or save basketball. It’s already at or very near the top of the world pyramid. Tiger changed much about golf, taking it to first-tier major sport status and greatly boosting its appeal to minorities, but there was never really any doubt about golf’s long-term viability.
For Adu though, many think he is the golden child of soccer in America. We are the world’s most prosperous country and we produce by far the most world-class athletes. We dominate every sport that we decide we are interested in. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and although millions of Americans play soccer, it’s still just barely a blip on the national consciousness. What American soccer needs is a hero – someone whose talents are obvious to all who watch. Americans really only like sports that we’re good at. If Freddy Adu makes the US good at soccer, Americans will watch. If Freddy Adu makes soccer cool, America could take over world soccer.
But then, he’s only 14 and tomorrow is only one game. If he doesn’t shine tomorrow, it doesn’t mean he won’t succeed. Lebron didn’t drop 40 in his first game and Tiger didn’t win his first tournament. But, you better believe I’ll be watching, just in case.
Hoops Notes
I can’t just ignore the Final Four! I’ll give you some quick hitters.
Since 1990, ACC teams have appeared in 21 regional finals. Those teams have won 17 times for a winning percentage of .810.
In that same span, the ACC is only 7-8 in Final Four games.
Since 1990, the Big East has had 14 teams in regional finals, but won only 4 of those games. Of the three that won in previous years, all three moved on to the Finals and two won the title.
The Big 8/12 has gone 8-6 in regional finals since 1990. Of the seven teams to make the Final Four before this year, only two went on to the finals where both lost.
Since 1990, only seven of the fifteen teams ranked #1 in the final AP poll have made the Final Four. Only three of those teams (including Duke twice) won the title.
That’s it. As for the two games, my head says that Oklahoma State and Connecticut will win. I don’t feel too strongly about either game though. No matter what happens, there won’t be a true upset, as there are no true underdogs. They should be good games.
Have fun watching (and don’t forget that soccer game at 4)!

Gillen to stay at Virginia

It’s an odd thing to put out a press release announcing that nothing is changing. It’s odd to make a big deal about a ten year contract continuing into its fourth year. But then, Pete Gillen’s tenure at Virginia has been nothing if not odd.
When Pete Gillen was hired at UVA in 1998, he was one of the more established coaches to ever enter the ACC. Usually, new coaches are young up-and-coming guys. Gillen was not young and was already established. He had a very good nine years at Xavier, reaching the NCAAs seven times. Then, he coached Providence for four more years, including a sensational run to the NCAA regional finals in 1997 behind point guard God Shammgod (who’s evidently been tearing up the Saudi Arabia league recently).
There were great expectations when Pete Gillen was hired to replace Jeff Jones at UVA.
His first team was a set of lovable losers. He had only six scholarship players, so he filled out his lineup with a set of walkons that Disney would be proud of, including former campus bartender Raleigh Harbour. Gillen got 12 wins out of that motley crew, leading UVA fans to levels of anticipation not seen since the Sampson days.
Gillen’s teams improved the next two years, and in 2001, UVA started the season in the top ten. They climbed as high as #4 before completely falling apart and finishing 17-12. It’s been all downhill from there – big losses, off-court incidents, disgruntled players – the works.
So, what happened? One theory has it that he’s just reached a level where he’s a bit over his head. College basketball’s Peter Principle. Gillen dominated the A-10 and did well in the Big East, but the ACC is a different beast. Recruiting against Syracuse and UConn is tough, but it’s not the same as butting heads with UNC and Duke every year.
Another theory, and one I put more credence in, is that Gillen’s simply lost too many talented assistants over the years. Coaching at the college level is not the work of one man. Coaches rely heavily on their assistants for everything from recruiting and breaking down film to running practices and offseason workouts. A strong staff has several talented, dedicated coaches. When those coaches leave, it takes time to rebuild the staff.
Consider the coaches that have left Pete Gillen’s staffs over the years:
Skip Prosser – head coach at Wake Forest (left Xavier staff in 1993)
Louis Orr – head coach at Seton Hall (left Providence staff in 1996)
Bobby Gonzalez – head coach at Manhattan (left UVA staff in 1999)
Tommy Herrion – head coach at College of Charleston (left UVA staff in 1992)
That’s a pretty impressive list. Prosser, Orr and Gonzalez all led their teams to the NCAAs this year, while Herrion’s Charleston team won 20 games (and 25 in his first season).
It’s entirely possible that much of Pete Gillen’s success was due to his strong assistant coaches. Surely he knows what he’s doing, but he may be the kind of coach who needs capable guys underneath him. That’s not to say that his current assistants aren’t capable, but odds are he hasn’t continued to hire guys as good as those four above. Not many coaches in the country have put out a coaching tree like that.
So where does this leave Virginia and coach Gillen? On the plus side, he has nearly his whole team back next year along with a pretty good recruiting class. In addition, the ACC is adding doormats Virginia Tech and Miami next year.
On the flip side, the ACC was very tough this year and all the teams have nearly everyone back. Chris Duhon was really the only senior of note in the conference and there aren’t too many underclassmen who appear ready to leave for the NBA.
Even worse for Gillen is the (accurate) perception that his job’s in jeopardy. It sounds like, despite his long contract, he’s on a year-to-year basis. You can bet that rivals will use that tenuous standing against him in recruiting battles. Top recruits don’t want to hear that the guys recruiting them are likely to be gone in a year or two.
It’s a vicious cycle. You need to get good players to improve your team, but until you improve your team, you don’t have job security. Without job security it’s nearly impossible to get good players.
One ray of hope for Pete Gillen is what has happened with Herb Sendek at NC State. Sendek has been going year-to-year for several years now. He has one tenth the charisma of Gillen, but has still managed to stay alive. After making the NCAAs two years in a row, Sendek seems to have turned the corner. If Herb Sendek can do it, so can Pete Gillen.
Herb Sendek as a model for Pete Gillen. Odd.