Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Sooner rather than later
Indiana will apparently announce as soon as today that Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson will be the new coach in Bloomington. Sampson reportedly told his players in Norman, OK, yesterday and met last night with IU athletic director Rick Greenspan and Indiana president Adam Herbert to negotiate the details.

What I like
Sampson's arguably been a Big Ten coach for years, the only problem being his team wasn't actually in the Big Ten.

Rebounding is second nature to Sampson's players: OU, with good but not stellar personnel, was the best offensive rebounding team in the nation this year.

And the man can recruit--the class he has coming in to Norman is rated fourth-best in the country. If he can do that at a football school in Norman, Oklahoma, imagine what he can do in Bloomington, Indiana.

What I don't like
I don't like the comically low graduation rates of OU players: tenth in the Big XII--the Big XII, a conference that, with all due respect to any readers from out yonder, isn't exactly populated with the Northwesterns and Michigans of the world academically speaking.

Nor, of course, do I like the specter of impending NCAA sanctions on the Oklahoma basketball program. True, the speculation this morning says that Indiana would never have selected Sampson without an all-clear sign from the NCAA to the effect that the impending sanctions in Norman will not be too dire. Still, regardless of the punishment the NCAA chooses to dole out, IU fans should harbor no illusions as to the behavior in question--specifically the conscious flouting (apparently) of clear and unmistakable rules. Non-permitted phone calls to recruits may not be Baylor-level as far as criminality, granted. But a couple months ago Gregg Doyel made a persuasive case that this is in fact Missouri-level stuff--the only difference being the coverage.

And what's the deal with the steady and virtually Knight-esque exodus of players leaving the OU program? Mind you, we're talking in more than a few cases about players who were getting PT in Norman. Before yesterday, of course, I already knew of Oklahoma transfer Lawrence McKenzie, simply because he's slated to help a Minnesota team that badly needs help this coming season. But some further investigation turns up a surprising number of additional refugees on the roads leading out of Norman: Ryan Humphrey, Drew Lavender, D'Angelo Alexander, and Brandon Foust, to name a few.

One last thing: despite Sampson's reputation, the Sooners' defense this season was actually nothing special.

The canary in the new-coach-hire coal mine
I've come to have a very simple and straightforward measure of how good a coaching hire is in any given case: what is the reaction of the fans of the coach's former program? For example, Illinois fans were fairly well devastated when Bill Self left in 2003. Same for Kansas fans that same year in the wake of Roy Williams' departure.

How about Oklahoma fans? Call me picky but this does not sound very devastated.

Sampson's father, Ned, says the toughest part for his son is "leaving his players and the new recruits coming in." Sooner recruit Keith Clark says he doesn't know what he'll do yet. Marquette assistant Jason Rabedeaux, who served as an assistant at Oklahoma under Sampson, says he understands the coach's motivation: "He's moving to a job where in a lot of people's eyes Indiana basketball is viewed in the same way as Oklahoma football." Columnist Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman says Sampson's "future is more secure than the program he just left."

Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz says simply: "Not sexy. Not a member of the family. Neither. Did you hear that noise? Thud." Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Jerry Brewer says Sampson "would be a fine coach for 90 percent of Division I teams. But for the Hoosiers, this move lacks pizzazz and sex appeal." At, Pat Forde says: "For the next few years, the temperature is going to be 1,000 degrees Kelvin under the chair of Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan." (Cute.) Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler says Sampson is "Huggins Lite." Daily Herald columnist Mike Imrem seems puzzled by the hire. And Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti, acknowledging reports that IU was turned down by both Mark Few and John Calipari, wonders: "When Gonzaga and Memphis are considered better positions in 2006, what does it say about facilities issues and general fan psychosis at Indiana?"

Last word
In this morning's Chicago Tribune, Sampson also gets a welcoming slather of Skip Myslenski's brand of Oprah treacle. ("The acorn never falls far from the tree and so it is best to first view Kelvin Sampson in Pembroke, the North Carolina town where the next Indiana coach was raised," etc.) Bet you never saw indulgently lachrymose fluff like this in Norman, huh Coach? Welcome to a major media market!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan beat Old Dominion 66-43 in Madison Square Garden last night in the NIT semifinals. Courtney Sims led all scorers with 18 points. (More here.) The Wolverines will face South Carolina in the championship game tomorrow night. (Box score.)

Illinois and Kansas are reportedly locked in a battle for a prized Chicago-area recruit, 6-4 guard Derrick Rose, a junior out of Simeon High School. (In the recent past, prized Chicago-area recruits Julian Wright and Sherron Collins have both chosen Lawrence over Champaign.) The other schools on Rose's short list, according to his coach, are North Carolina, Memphis, and Virginia. (Virginia?)...Dee Brown was named to the ten-man John Wooden All-American team yesterday.

At, Yoni Cohen ponders this 1-less Final Four: "The NCAA tournament doesn't determine the best team in college basketball. Rather, it determines the best team for six games in March. That's madness." And Kara Yorio of The Sporting News seconds Yoni's emotion, saying this Final Four leaves her "feeling cheated."

COMING tomorrow (delayed for a day by Kelvin Sampson)....
It's a Final Four Week tradition! This blog's annual helpful suggestion on what would truly be in society's best interest as regards a certain CBS Sports basketball analyst's schedule of activities for the weekend. Tune in tomorrow!

Wonk back!
Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!

An invitation to mockery
Any pre-pre-pre-season predictions for next season?

Matthew C.

Great. Having seen in vivid detail how hoops pundits are utterly powerless to predict what will happen over the course of just two weeks, let us now turn our attention to a year from now.

OK, fine. Here's my seat-of-the-pants sequence, admittedly offered in advance of any dedicated research on newcomers not named Greg Oden:

Ohio State
Michigan State
Penn State

Bump Michigan State up a spot if Shannon Brown comes back. Bump Indiana up two spots if Robert Vaden and D.J. White both stay.

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