Wednesday, September 12, 2012

09/13 (Calhoun) Quickie

Jim Calhoun came across like a bit of a bully. He also was in charge of a program that might have done some pretty sketchy* things and is on the NCAA's spit list.

He was also one of the Top 3 greatest men's college basketball coaches of the past 30 years.

What threads that top 3 together -- Calhoun, Coach K and Rick Pitino (sorry, Bob Knight) -- is that they all took unsuccessful programs and turned them into champs.

(In K's case, Duke had slid into mediocrity; he turned it into a perennial Final Four team. In Pitino's case, he took an also-ran at Providence to the Final Four, which is like another coach taking a better program and winning it all; clearly, Pitino rebuilding Kentucky wasn't quite the same level of difficulty, but nonetheless, he delivered one of the most devastating teams of all time.)

Jim Calhoun went from Northeastern to a UConn program with zero identity beyond being the laughingstock of the most visible and most competitive conference in college sports history and -- over a hell of a long slog -- molded into a championship team not once, not twice, but three times, across three different player eras.

He totally out-coached Coach K in the '99 title game. He rode the country's best player to a title against an iffy field in 2004. And then, in his masterpiece, he engineered a Cinderella run behind a 6-foot superstar in 2011. Three titles, all from a program that began as a punching bag.

There is no analogue in college basketball. The coaching job he did was among the finest in the sport's history -- probably more impressive than Pitino, arguably more impressive even than Coach K.

We will never see anything like it again in college hoops, a worst-to-first storyline building over nearly two decades, followed by a stretch of a dozen years in the top tier of the sport -- replacing rebuilding with reloading -- and with two national titles to show for it.

The struggles at the end with the NCAA simply cannot erode the staggering success.

* -- Not particularly sketchy, one of my favorite memories of my career is sitting in a, um, "bar" in Tampa at 3 in the morning the night in 1999 when UConn upset Duke to win the NCAA Tournament. Up rolls the Huskies in various sports cars and luxury limos. They proceeded to, um, make it rain. I didn't file that story.


Notre Dame joins the ACC: Yes, it's about the money. Yes, it's about the coming college football playoff. Yes, it's about creating a bit more certainty for ND in its scheduling. Yes, it's about the ACC making a power move to keep pace among the conferences in the second tier after the SEC. (The Pac-12 was already there; the Big Ten enjoys a lot of security; the last time we heard from the ACC, they were potentially going to lose Florida State to the Big 12 -- not anymore.)

The Big Ten must be wondering how they lost out on this, but it's simple: The ACC commish Jack Swofford is a better wheeler-dealer than the Big Ten's Jim Delany. Is it a shame that Notre Dame is going to replace Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue and others on its schedule with ACC teams? Yes, when it's ND vs. Wake or ND vs. Duke or ND vs. Maryland; no, when it's ND vs. FSU, which should happen every year.

MLB: Yankees-Red Sox. I actually like the Red Sox a lot more when they have nothing more to play for than to spoil the Yankees' season.

MLB: Interleague play in 2013 will start on April 1st -- sure, why not?

CFB: My favorite part about this week's BlogPoll Top 25 is that my temporary placement of Louisiana-Monroe at No. 2 drew the jeers of poll administrator Andy Hutchins in his weekly analysis of ballots. I swear I wasn't trolling: They have played a single game, it was on the road at a Top 10 team (nevermind that in hindsight, they aren't a top 10 team) and they won. Can any other team in the Top 25 point to a "better" win? Maybe Utah State over Utah, but that was at Utah State. Maybe Clemson over Auburn, but Auburn is 0-2. Maybe Arizona over Oklahoma State, but that was at Arizona -- and I don't think anyone thought as highly of OSU as they did of Arkansas. I'm just saying: If you go by "resume" -- what a team has done THIS season, on the field, not last season or in preseason polls -- ULM has as good of an argument as anyone except Alabama. Will that change as they play worse teams (or lose)? Sure. But for now? I'll stand by my pick.

My favorite thing I tipped on Quickish on Wednesday: SmartFootball's Chris Brown, via Grantland, on the plays that made RGIII a success. (I can't get enough RGIII. BTW, NBC Sports Network has a new weekly show called "Turning Point" that is excellent -- they had a segment on the Skins-Saints game that was awesome. The whole show was great.)

-- D.S.

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