Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Do "hot" coaches stay hot after they're hired?
Some don't. No one could be hotter than Steve Alford was eight years ago this month. His 12th-seeded Southwest Missouri State team (since morphed into simply Missouri State) had beaten 4th-seeded Wisconsin and 5th-seeded Tennessee to reach the Sweet 16, before falling to 1-seed Duke.

And Alford's team did it with punishing defense: the score of the Wisconsin game was 43-32. If Alford could do that with the recruits he had in Springfield, MO, the thinking went, just imagine what he could do at a "power"-conference program.

We've since found out what he could do. Not much, and he's now fled the power conferences entirely.

Then again, some "hot" coaches do OK. Bill Self ("hot" class of 2000, Tulsa), Thad Matta (2004, Xavier), and Bruce Pearl (2005, Wisconsin-Milwaukee) are chugging along.

So the question facing ADs at Michigan and Iowa is: how can we predict who'll stay hot and who'll cool off?

Answer: you can't. But here's what I'd do if I were in their shoes....

1. Try first, last, and throughout to gauge your candidate's recruiting potential. Tough to do, of course, but also the most important skill for your new hire to possess. Matta and Self are where they are for one reason above all others: recruiting.

Self, of course, has been tagged this week as something of a Breck girl among coaches: catnip to the blue-chip recruits but doomed to be out-coached in Elite Eight games. Yesterday I registered my dissent to this characterization, not because I fancy that Self unwinds after a long day by doing some quick diffy q's but because I don't suppose any of this is exactly rocket science. If you're a towering intellect and you go into basketball coaching, you're in the wrong field. Please go where you're needed: Billy Packer job-relocation. We need our best minds working on that as a modern-day Manhattan Project.

(And, yes, I'm aware that Seth Davis agrees with me where Self is concerned. Save your taunts, please. The words "Seth Davis agrees with me" cut deeper than anything you could say.)

2. Look at the body of work, not just the tournament run.

3. Look at the three-point shooting of your candidate's team: if it was really good in March, discount that as a factor in your hiring. Example: for all I know, Ernie Kent will turn out to be the next John Wooden. But if he's hired based on what Oregon did this month, he'll show his true greatness in spite of his team's precociously hot outside shooting and not because of it. (Actually the same could be said, kind of, for Pearl. Tennessee left the building having shot 49 percent on their threes in the tournament.)

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Last year Ohio State lost to Georgetown in the tournament but this year the Buckeyes are reportedly bigger and better; profile of David Lighty.

Seven-foot high-school baller Beas Hamga is rethinking his commitment to Iowa in the wake of Steve Alford's departure....Think back to 2001. Michigan hired Tommy Amaker, while Wisconsin went with Bo Ryan (the latter an Adolph Rupp Award-winner, by the way). Inescapable conclusion for 2007: clearly Iowa should find some obscure old guy drilling fundamentals into plucky overachievers at a D-III school, preferably in, say, Cleghorn, Iowa.

P.S. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl has officially said no to Iowa.

While he was at it, Pearl also disavowed any interest in the Michigan job, though it's unclear whether he's been contacted or if the Wolverines are even interested in him. Indeed, some observers think AD Bill Martin may be focusing instead on West Virginia coach John Beilein. (We'll have to wait a little longer to find out: the Mountaineers came back from 14 down and beat Mississippi State on a buzzer-beating three last night in the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden. West Virginia will play Clemson for the title.)

A Freudian analysis of all those Billy Donovan-to-Kentucky rumors.

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

How good was North Carolina, really? (Plus stuff about me.)
On Monday I said this is the last season for this blog, though not for this blogger. The readers respond!

Hi Wonk,

Great season of Wonking overall. Even though I'm a Michigan State fan, I'm pretty excited to have Tubby in the conference. He's a pretty stunning catch for the Gophers, and I think he'll be a credit to the Big Ten overall. Not sure he can ever make them a powerhouse but the upper-middle of the pack just got a little more crowded.

With an eye toward your new direction, let me just go ahead and say it: You didn't convince me that North Carolina had a good defense this year.

I'm absolutely convinced of the value of tempo-free stats and PPWS, but either UNC's D inexplicably tanked every time I watched them, or the stats painted an inaccurate picture in this case. Technically, you're correct that they don't allow many points per possession; if that's the sole measure, it's hard to argue with you.

But it seemed to me that it wasn't really "defense" in the classic sense; these guys were stellar rebounders who played really fast, but couldn't lock down anybody if they tried. Throughout the tourney, UNC got back-doored over and over, gave up an absurd amount of open threes, and generally seemed unable to adjust to complex half-court offenses. Their great rebounding and completely disorienting pace was the key to their low PPP on the defensive end, but isn't that a bit like having a punter who lays it on the one yard line every time? Most defenses will look good in that scenario.

Anyway, I really look forward to reading your stuff next season, wherever it may be located. As for the rest of this season, I strongly suggest you dispense with the winking modesty angle and switch directly to the full-bore, Mitch Albom-style, "Tuesdays with Wonkie" tearjerker angle. It would be cathartic for all of us.

Shawn M.

Carolina made opponents miss two-point shots all year long--until Sunday night. And now they're sitting at home because of the exception to the rule. That's the way March works in this here game.

And thanks for the kudos, Shawn.

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