Archive | January, 2015

There is Another Contender in the Valley

15 Jan

Since the turn of the century talk about the Missouri Valley Conference has centered on Creighton and Wichita State.  The talk has been with good reason as the two teams have combined for half of the regular season championships, eight conference tournament titles and 12 NCAA Tournament berths, including two trips to the Sweet 16 and a Final Four appearance from Wichita State.

With Creighton now moved on to the Big East Wichita State was seen as the team to beat in the Valley, and last year they were.  The Shockers were 35-0 and a #1 seed in the tournament before they fell to Kentucky 78-76 ending their dream season.

Coming into this season Wichita State was once again thought to be the favorite in the conference, a look at the standings shows a familiar foe lurking just a game back of the undefeated Shockers and with the same 15-2 record, the Northern Iowa Panthers.

The Panthers may not have the accolades of Creighton and Wichita State with two regular season and three conference tournament titles, they do have five NCAA Tournament appearances, a memorable trip to the Sweet 16 in 2010 (we all remember Ali Farokhmanesh, UNLV and Kansa sure do) and eight 20+ win seasons in the last 11 years.  This run started ironically enough in 2003-04 with the man who now coaches Creighton, Gregg McDermott who led them to 21 wins and led them to their first NCAA Tournament since 1990.

When McDermott left in 2006, Ben Jacobson has led them the rest of the way and again has the team poised for another 20 wins and a run at the Big Dance.

The team sits at 15-2 (4-1 in the MVC) with wins over Stephen F. Austin, Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Iowa.  The two losses were both on the road at VCU in double overtime and to Evansville by three to open conference play.

How are the Panthers able to do it year after year?  This year especially, with two words: balance and defense.  Three of their top four scorers are seniors; Seth Tuttle, Nate Buss and Deon Mitchell combine for 28.2 points per game but Tuttle is the only member of the team in double figures at 14.7 a game.  The balance comes in with seven of their nine rotation players averaging nearly 20 minutes per game and all nine getting over 15.  Every one of those nine players contributes offensively with at least 4.6 points per game; it may not sound like a lot but for a team that only averages 66 per game that is balance and depth.  They also rarely turn the ball over, committing just 11 per contest.

Where the Panthers really excel is on the defensive end of the floor allowing just over 55 points per game which puts the 9th in the country in that category.  They also hold their opponents to just 37.9% shooting from the field, while offensively they shoot it at 48.5%.  Those two stats alone will keep the Panthers in many ballgames.

With conference play upon them here is where the Panthers will get tested.  They welcome the conference’s other undefeated team, Indiana State to town on the 21st before a battle with Wichita State 10 days later and a rematch with Indiana State on February 3rd.  In what could shape up to be a very important game the season finale for Northern Iowa is a road trip to Wichita on February 28th.

With Creighton gone and Wichita State not making a run at an undefeated season it is time for people to notice that the Missouri Valley is more than just those two teams.  The Northern Iowa Panthers will make people take notice when the calendar turns to March, if not before.

Why the Coaching Tree at Duke is Filled with Former Players

8 Jan

When a coach leaves the game, any game, his legacy isn’t carried on by the number of wins or titles it is carried on by the others he taught along the way.  That is why we so often look at the coaching tree of a long-tenured coach to see how far his influence reaches.

He has the most victories of any division 1 college basketball coach.  He has four national titles and has been the head coach of Team USA for 10 international competitions, coming away with five gold medals, two of which are Olympic gold.  But for men like Mike Kryzewski it is not about records or medals it is about the lives he gets to mold every year.

Coach K has been molding lives as a head coach since 1975 when he was named the head man at Army and since 1980 he has been doing the same at Duke.  Kryzewski has had many former players and assistants go on to coach their own programs.  He currently has five former players coaching Division one programs, they are:

Steve Wojciechowski-Marquette

Chris Collins- Northwestern

Bobby Hurley- Buffalo

Johnny Dawkins –Stanford

Tommy Amaker- Harvard

What is it about legendary coaches besides success on the court that allows them to be remembered as such when they finally leave the game?  What do coaches who become branches of a coaching tree take with them when they lead their own program?  Is it style of play? Coaching or recruiting philosophies?   Amaker spent 15 years learning from Coach K as a player and then as a member of his staff and has now had three successful head coaching stints since leaving the Duke sideline.

He spent four years at Seton Hall upon leaving Duke where he led the Pirates to three NITs and a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2000.  He then took the head coaching job at Michigan where he amassed three NIT berths including two title game appearances and one championship in six seasons.  He was let go in 2007 and less than a month later was hired as the head coach at Harvard.  Now in his 8th season with the Crimson, Amaker has five post-season berths, four Ivy League titles, and three NCAA Tournament berths with wins over New Mexico and Cincinnati the last two seasons.  The team finds itself at 9-3 currently and once again favorites to take home the Ivy League crown.

Through his time at Duke Amaker says whether you are a player or a coach, “you learn many things and many lessons.  They’re equally as valuable on both sides.”

Amaker became the youngest head coach in the history of the Big East Conference at 31 when he took the helm at Seton Hall.  One might think that the man he had spent over a decade with would impart some deep words of wisdom.  Amaker recalls that was far from the case. “It was very simple and I utilize this with many other situations.  He told me to be myself, and I always remember that because I was looking for something more.  It was an amazing piece of advice because it showed me how much he had confidence in me.  I knew what he meant and that gave me an incredible amount of confidence.”

In terms of running a program watching Coach K for so long Amaker says, “The way he has always developed his programs and his teams, having a sense of accountability and responsibility and those things can go a long way, That’s in the classroom, that’s what your job is on the court.  We try to emulate that, the standards that were always set.  I do think that is a guiding force that he set for us from day 1 in how you want to build a program, run a program and coach your team.”

With now five former players running Division 1 programs, why is it that Duke sees so many former players becoming first members of the Blue Devil staff and eventually head coaches?  “We’ve been lucky, I think all of us (former players now coaches) would say we’ve been lucky to be afforded that opportunity.  It’s not like he has a shortage of people who would like to work for him.  We’ve been lucky to have gotten our start with him”

Amaker says he tries to keep tabs on the other former players that are now coaching but it is hard.  “You’re engulfed with your team and your program and all that comes with that.”

He says even from a distance you see the Duke influence in their programs, “in how they are winning.”

Here is a look at how the other four former Blue Devil players are faring as head coaches.

Wojciechowski is in his first season at Marquette and although the Golden Eagles were picked to finish near the bottom of the Big East they did finish their non-conference schedule with an 8-4 record with three of the four losses coming to ranked opponents.

Both Hurley and Collins are in their second seasons at Buffalo and Northwestern respectively.

In his first season with Buffalo Hurley led the team to 19 victories after winning just 14 the year prior.  The Bulls fell to Eastern Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American tournament last season and this season have gotten off to 9-3 start entering conference play.  Two of the losses coming from teams Hurley saw plenty of as a player, Wisconsin and Kentucky.

As college basketball fans we have all heard the plight of Northwestern, being the only school from a power conference to never make the NCAA Tournament.  With the hire of Chris Collins last season many wondered if he was the guy to finally get that monkey off their back in Evanston.  He may be but it will not be on overnight success story for the Wildcats.  Last season they finished 14-19 and were picked 14th in the pre-season poll this year, just above conference newcomer Rutgers.    We shall see what the future holds for Collins and his crew this year as they currently sit at 10-5 (1-1 in the Big Ten).

Much like Amaker, Johnny Dawkins spent 10 years on the bench next to Kryzewski before becoming a head coach.  Dawkins has spent the last seven years as the head man for the Stanford Cardinal.  In his first season the team made the CBI semifinals, in 2011 he won 26 games, was left out of the NCAA Tournament and went on to win the NIT.  Before last season there were some murmurs that Dawkins could be on the hot seat if the team didn’t perform well.  He answered his critics with a 23-13 season and an NCAA Tournament berth as a 10-seed where they upset New Mexico and #2 Kansas on their way to the Sweet 16.  This year the Cardinal were picked to finish 5th in the Pac-12 and are 10-3, one of those losses coming at the hands of his mentor and Duke.  They began conference play with a home sweep of Washington State and Washington before heading out on a three-game road trip to UCLA, USC and Cal.

Amaker says of his fellow Duke coaching colleagues, “you’re excited for them, proud of them, but we all recognize that it all funnels back to the man and that’s the way it should be.”

That is why the coaching tree of the game’s winningest coach will flourish once he is gone, the branches always remember how they started and were given the strongest root structure possible.

Whenever Mike Kryzewski hangs up his clipboard he will have the most wins of any coach in the history of the game, but more importantly his influence will be seen all throughout college basketball because of the young men he nurtured and decided to follow in his footsteps.

Here is the audio to the interview with Tommy Amaker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-YxEnvx9n8&feature=youtu.be

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