Saturday, December 31, 2011

College Hoops Observations

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

I've always had the belief that nobody pays attention to college basketball until after January 1 because there are so many other sports going on.

The beginning of the college basketball season does show some marquee match-ups, but there are a lot of mismatches. This makes me wonder whether these elite head coaches over the years in the eyes of Hall of Fame Coach Dick Vitale play too many "cupcakes" easy contests, thus their win totals become inflated.

But as I follow college basketball through the fall, there are a some things that stood out which I definitely feel are worth mentioning.

1) I was glad to see the University of Detroit-Mercy honor Vitale on December 5, 2011, by renaming it's court "Dick Vitale Court at Calihan Hall." The Titans defeated St. Johns University 69-63 to cap off the occasion. When the NCAA Final Four was held in Detroit in 2009, the university allowed Vitale to use his old office for live ESPN Reports. As coach of the Titans, Vitale's tenure was short and sweet. From 1973-77, he posted a 78-30 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 1977. During the 1977 season, the Titans had a 21-game winning streak and the tournament field was 32-teams. During that winning streak, the Titans defeated eventual National Champion the Marquette Warriors on the road in Milwaukee during the regular season.

Vitale left the Titans and accepted the head coaching job for the Detroit Pistons but this decision fizzled as he finished with a 34-60 record from 1978-1979. He was smart enough to get out of coaching and called ESPN's first NCAA Basketball Game on December 5, 1979, when DePaul defeated Wisconsin 90-77.

How ironic is it that exactly 32-years later from the day he started working for ESPN, that a court would be named after him on My Own Father's birthday. Another irony is that in 2008, Vitale was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame with his old boss, William Davidson, the man who fired him in 1979 from the Pistons.

2) I hope Indiana University does the right thing and eventually honors former Coach Bobby Knight. All Knight did was lead the Hoosiers to three national championships and ran a clean program. It's old news that Knight's temper led to his dismissal at Indiana. But lets not lose sight of the fact that the basketball program overshadowed football and put Indiana on the map. It's fallen on hard times since Knight's departure.

It was refreshing to see Knight honored at halftime on December 20, 2011 with an alumni award from Ohio State where he graduated in 1962 in a game against Lamar University, coached by his son Pat Knight. Ohio State won the game 70-50. Bobby Knight was a member of the 1960 Buckeyes team that won the school's only hoops national title.

3) I saw that UNLV named its court after former Coach Jerry Tarkanian. There is no question that this is well deserved because he put this program on the hoops basketball map. From 1973-1992, Tarkanian made the Thomas & Mack Center an intimidating place to play as it was referred to as the "Shark Tank." He was 509-105 for a winning percentage of .829. He led the Rebels to the program's lone National Championship in in 1990, in addition to 12 NCAA Tournament Appearances and Four Final Fours. The last Final Four UNLV appeared in was in 1991 and this the program hasn't been the same.

Tarkanian left UNLV for the NBA's San Antonio Spurs but his pro career lasted 20 games as he finished 9-11 with a .450 winning percentage during the 1992-93 season. I actually met Tarkanian during a Pistons game at the Palace of Auburn Hills and he admitted that he may have made a mistake leaving UNLV because he wasn't comfortable coaching the pros. He told me that he was tired of all the headaches he had to deal with pertaining to the politics of the NCAA governing body thus he went to the NBA.

4) Please tell me one thing that makes sense that Louisville Coach Rick Pitino has announced that he will leave the Cardinals when his contract runs out after the 2016-2017 season. Will this help recruiting? What will gas prices be? Will electric cars replace our conventional vehicles? Who will be the next president? This is the most meaningless piece of news that I've heard since the start of my journalism career in 1979. Frankly Rick, nobody gives a damn about 2017! The ball hasn't even dropped to welcome 2012. Go see the movie Rick "Back To The Future" and let us all know how you like it.

5) It will be interesting to see how Nebraska Mens Basketball Coach Doc Sadler fares in the Cornuskers inaugural season in The Big 10. On December 27, 2011, The Wisconsin Badgers whipped Nebraska 64-40  in the Cornhuskers first Big 10 Conference home game in Lincoln.

Ironically, Nebraska played Wisconsin in their conference opener on the road in Madison and got drilled 48-17.

Nebraska is 8-4 and 0-1 but I have a feeling this will be a long year on the hard court for a school which is known for it's success as an elite football program. Athletic Director Tom Osborne knew this when he departed The Big 12, but is willing to get hammered in other sports as long as he reaps the financial benefits of the gridiron along with the TV exposure on the Big 10 Network. Good luck Nebraska and see you next fall.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33.com and his blog can also be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

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