Athlon presents eight strong candidates.
By Ken Davis
March is upon us. The clock is ticking toward Selection Sunday, and Championship Week — with all those tournament trophies up for grabs — is about to commence.
Along with the madness comes awards. Fredette Frenzy has apparently resulted in the fact that Jimmer Fredette will be the National Player of the Year. That race has been such a hot topic in recent weeks, there really hasn’t been much discussion surrounding the top performance by a coach.
Honestly, there are several outstanding jobs being done this season. It’s going to be hard to pick just one Coach of the Year (in the Big East, let alone nationally). Here are eight names, in no particular order, worth considering. Out of respect, we’ve added a few honorable mentions.
Mike Brey, Notre Dame: Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson are gone, yet the Fighting Irish are 12-4 in the toughest conference in the country, one game behind Pittsburgh for first place, and the only non-conference loss was to Kentucky. Brey has an experienced team with a great understanding of Notre Dame’s system. After so many seasons on the bubble, it’s great to see Brey enjoying this level of success.
Dave Rose, BYU: The Cougars are in the discussion for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Sure, Jimmer Fredette is a major reason. But BYU plays team basketball, focusing on great defense and a balanced offense (after Jimmer). If you can’t root for Dave Rose, a man who has battled pancreatic cancer and gone on with his career, there’s something wrong with you.
Steve Lavin, St. John’s: The Big East Tournament and New York City go hand-in-hand. Once upon a time a man named Lou Carnesecca owned Madison Square Garden. Now Lavin, in his rookie season, and his Red Storm have revitalized college hoops in the Big Apple. You get the feeling they aren’t done. The coaches in the Big East might vote him conference Coach of the Year just to put pressure on him next season — when he doesn’t have 10 seniors on the roster.
Matt Painter, Purdue: The season was supposed to be over before it began. Robbie Hummel’s injury meant no Final Four aspirations for the Boilermakers. Maybe that needs to be reconsidered. It turns out JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore and Lewis Jackson are pretty darned good. Purdue is playing at a high level right now, and Painter is pushing all the right buttons.
Sean Miller, Arizona: The Wildcats are coming off an extremely bad weekend, with losses to USC and UCLA on the road. But Arizona is 12-4 in the Pac-10 and tied for first with UCLA. Miller, who worked a few miracles at Xavier, has the reconstruction project ahead of schedule, and the Wildcats are headed back to the NCAA Tournament. The guy really can rally coach.
Rick Barnes, Texas: Hopefully those Longhorn fans who wanted to give up on Barnes after last season’s disappointment have snapped back to their senses. Chemistry is a tough thing to predict. Last year, Texas lost it. This year, there has been good karma from the start. It doesn’t hurt to have Jordan Hamilton on your roster either.
Anthony Grant, Alabama: The Crimson Tide got off to a horrible start, with three losses in November. But Alabama has gone 17-6, including an 11-3 record in the SEC. Grant’s team finishes the regular season at Florida and home against Georgia. Those are two big games that will determine how this season is remembered. But the future looks bright at Alabama.
Bill Self, Kansas: There’s not a lot of chatter about the job Self has done, but there should be. First, he had to replace Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry and Sherron Collins. The Morris twins are terrific players but not natural leaders, so Self has had to check their emotions (not an easy task). Josh Selby joined the team in midstream. Mario Little and Tyshawn Taylor broke rules, and Self didn’t hesitate to suspend them. Factor in injuries and the tragic circumstances surrounding Thomas Robinson, and a lot of credit for a 27-2 record must go to the head coach.
Honorable mention: Rick Pitino, Louisville; Thad Matta, Ohio State; Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt; Jim Calhoun, Connecticut; Billy Donovan, Florida; and Jim Larranaga, George Mason.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Purdue’s JuJuan Johnson made an enormous statement Sunday with 20 points, a career-high 17 rebounds, and seven blocks in a 67-47 victory over Michigan State. The statement was personal because Johnson should be a first-team All-America selection. The statement was about Purdue. “We’re really playing at a high level right now,” Johnson said. You can say that again. And the statement extended to the suffering Spartans, who lost twice to Purdue twice this season. “JaJuan Johnson is playing as well as anybody in the country,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. Earlier in the week, Johnson had 20 points and nine rebounds in a victory over Indiana.
FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
One of the signs of freshman maturity is answering the bell. Jeremy Lamb did that for Connecticut last week. Kemba Walker needs Lamb and other freshmen teammates to score and lighten the burden. Lamb was 4-for-11 in a loss to Marquette but bounced back with a 7-for-10 performance on the road against Cincinnati. Lamb had 17 points, five rebounds and two assists in a 67-59 victory at Cincy. For the week, Lamb had 25 points and 17 rebounds. The Huskies need that contribution.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Monday, Feb. 28
Villanova at Notre Dame
The Irish just keep taking care of business — and suddenly first place in the Big East is within reach. A road win would be huge for Villanova.
Kansas State at Texas
Frank Martin’s team has come back to life after the Wildcats were almost declared postseason dead. But there’s a good chance Texas is mad about what happened in Colorado. It may not be a good time to visit Austin.
Tuesday, March 1
Alabama at Florida
Bama leads the SEC West. Florida leads the SEC East. Let’s get ready to rumble!
Vanderbilt at Kentucky
Vanderbilt can clinch the No. 2 seed in the SEC East with a win in Lexington.
Boston College at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech will be trying to follow up on that big win over Duke. BC is .500 in league play and very much on the NCAA bubble.
Wednesday, March 2
North Carolina at Florida State
The Tar Heels have a big week ahead playing Florida State and Duke. Could Roy’s boys be ready to make a big move?
Cincinnati at Marquette
Two 9-7 teams from the Big East, just trying to convince everyone they belong in the NCAA tournament.
Texas A&M at Kansas
Senior Night is always special at Allen Fieldhouse. This time the roses go to Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed, a couple of Kansas boys living the Jayhawk dream.
Thursday, March 3
St. John’s at Seton Hall
Steve Lavin’s team is on a remarkable six-game winning streak, and Dwight Hardy is New York’s newest star. St. John’s takes its act across the river to Jersey.
Saturday, March 5
Notre Dame at Connecticut
Ben Hansbrough and Kemba Walker on the floor together. That’s worth the price of admission right there.
Florida at Vanderbilt
The Gators took the first meeting in overtime. Now the Commodores can return the favor.
Kansas at Missouri
The Jayhawks rolled Mizzou 103-86 in Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 7. Can the Tigers put a stop to that in Columbia?
Villanova at Pittsburgh
Pitt won the first meeting, 57-54, when Brad Wanamaker stepped up with Ashton Gibbs sidelined. The Panthers are trying to hold on to first in the Big East.
Duke at North Carolina
Can the Tar Heels put two solid halves together against Duke? Maybe, since this one is in the Dean Dome.
Sunday, March 6
Kentucky at Tennessee
Will Kentucky’s road woes continue? Can Tennessee find consistency? Why is Bruce Pearl still coaching the Vols?
Wisconsin at Ohio State
They’ve already treated us once this season. Let’s see what happens with a venue change.
THEY SAID IT
“A lot of teams, down six to Duke, would have just folded up and let Duke put the game away, but we didn’t. We buckled up and got stops.” — Malcolm Delaney after Virginia Tech’s huge win over Duke Saturday night
“We’ve been working all season to make sure we get to this position. And it’s been a struggle. We definitely had times where we didn’t think we could do it. But now we’re in this position and we just have to seize the moment.” — North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, on tying Duke for first place in the ACC.
“I didn’t yell and scream [at halftime]. I probably should have. I didn’t know what to expect coming out at halftime. But our guys, they delivered.” – Colorado coach Tad Boyle after the Buffaloes overcame a 22-point deficit to beat Texas 91-89.
“We need to move on, but we need to learn from getting punched in the mouth and not responding well. The physical nature of that team, I would’ve really enjoyed it if I wasn’t coaching against it.” — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo after the Spartans were dominated at home by Purdue.
“I’m not trying to look for something good, but we responded. It’s not like we packed it in. It’s not like we took a ‘woe is me’ attitude. We fought. We scrapped. We got back in it. Are we in a position we thought we would be five days ago? No. ... But that group in there — I’ve got confidence that we’re going to figure it out.” — Georgetown coach John Thompson III, after the Hoyas lost to Syracuse in their first game without injured guard Chris Wright.
“When we’re at the Kohl Center, we don’t plan on losing. Ever.” —Wisconsin forward Jon Leuer after the Badgers completed their third unbeaten home season in 19 years under coach Bo Ryan.
“I missed a shot and he said, ‘Chris Paul wouldn’t miss that shot.’ That’s all right. I came down and made the next one. It was fun.” — UConn’s Kemba Walker, on making three straight baskets after the taunts of a Cincinnati fan Sunday as the Huskies won.
A Louisville cheerleader gave us a premature taste of March Madness Sunday when he couldn’t contain his excitement and almost became bigger than the game story. The cheerleader, Jordan Alcazar, jumped onto the court, grabbed the basketball and flipped it in the air toward the roof after Kyle Kuric slammed a dunk that appeared to be the final touch on an overtime victory over Pittsburgh. Officials called a delay of game technical foul, and :0.5 was left on the game clock with Louisville leading 62-57. After Ashton Gibbs hit both free throws. Pitt couldn’t manage a successful desperation shot, and Louisville won. But think of the possibilities. “All good things have to come to an end, and the male cheerleader [at Louisville] comes to an end,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said with a smile during the postgame press conference. "Hopefully he’ll learn the rules." The Louisville-Courier Journal reports that Pitino called Alcazar later and told him he “has a great story to tell his kids someday.”
Class of 2011
The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Monday announced the induction class of 2011. Two of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s greatest players — Virginia’s Ralph Sampson and North Carolina’s James Worthy — are the headliners. Joining Sampson and Worthy for enshrinement will be coaches Bob Knight and Eddie Sutton, players Cazzie Russell and Chris Mullin and contributors Joe Vancisin and Eddie Einhorn. Induction ceremonies are scheduled for Nov. 20 in Kansas City, Mo.
Coach moves have started already. Rod Barnes is out at Georgia State, and he will not participate in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. Barnes was 44-79 overall in four seasons.
UCLA looking strong
UCLA may emerge as the best team in the Pac-10. When Arizona lost on the road to UCLA and USC last weekend, it created a tie for first with the Bruins. And after Washington worked so hard to get back in the race, the Huskies lost to rival Washington State. UCLA has lost only twice since Jan. 9 — on the road at Arizona and Cal and both in overtime.
Ironically, Tyler Trapani, the great-grandson of legendary coach John Wooden, scored the final basket in a 71-49 win over Arizona Saturday. Trapani is a walk-on who rarely gets off the UCLA bench. Pauley Pavilion is schedule for renovation so Trapani's basket was historic. "It was kind of meant to be," said teammate Tyler Honeycutt.
Special senior night
Siena senior Ryan Rossiter closed out his home career in historic fashion. Along with a career-high 34 points, he had 11 rebounds in an 81-73 victory over Marist. Rossiter, who ranks second in the nation in rebounding (13.4 per game) behind Kenneth Faried, broke the school record for rebounds in a season that was established by Billy Harrell in 1950. Harrell had 387 boards. Rossiter now is at 388.
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher
(http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken’s web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).