Tag Archives: Shaka Smart

Examining the Pod: Arizona Wildcats

It is my humble as well as braggadocios belief that Arizona is one of the four best teams in this tournament.

Of course this has sent me into something of an identity crisis. As you’ve loyally followed these pages, I have a clear and – once again – braggadocios stance on the power of KenPom and other metrics to explain a team’s chances to win a basketball game. As it were, I do not love Arizona by its advanced metrics. They do a little bit of everything well, nothing particularly great. They’ve also had one of the more unique roster situations of recent memory lending itself to a lack of performance continuity outside of one of the game’s most critical stats: WINNING. A wholistic view of the metrics, as aggregated by Five Thirty Eight tells us that the Wildcats have the eighth best odds to win the whole damn thing. Crisis averted?

I’m still just moderately satisfied. Saint Mary’s is a higher rated KenPom team with higher odds of reaching the Elite Eight than the West’s 3 seed, Florida State. The Gaels, in fact, have higher Final Four odds than UCLA and Oregon. We can get to Randy Bennett and the challenge the Gaels pose later. And no matter the case, no one said winning this thing was easy. Arizona, as an intact roster including Trier et. al. was KenPom’s 10th rated team. The 538 aggregate accounts for that and other preseason measures, a means to keep us all honest. Yet if the WCC (Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s) is providing Arizona’s greatest hurdles to making its first Final Four since 2001, then I’ll take those chances. Furthermore, Arizona was rewarded with just a 16-seed in the Name of the Year Bracket (s/o Chance Comanche). Does all this mean I’m an eye test guy?

First Round – #15 North Dakota

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Steve Alford is no April Fools

I love the Steve Alford hire.

I’m watching the Kevin Ware injury on repeat.

I have little interest in what Aaron Gordon has to say tomorrow.

It was about time to get the Oregon cheerleaders off TV.

I will not miss this college basketball season.


Are you kidding me!? Steve Alford was a fallback hire and I will not watch the Ware thing once. If Aaron Gordon says what I think and hope he’ll say dancing will ensue and preferably with an Oregon cheerleader. There are just three games left 🙁

But I really want to dig into this Alford hire.

It came across my ESPN ScoreCenter push notifications at something like 8:50am Saturday on my way to a pickup hoops game. I was driving alone and immediately didn’t know what to do. I headed to social media, quickly, and then to Wikipedia. The Alford page already mentioned UCLA.

Hadn’t he just signed a 10-year deal in Albuquerque?

Alas, Dan Guerrero and Bruins Nation have their man. He has to be. Westwood’s newest coach:

  • 4 Tournament wins in 18 seasons as HC
  • .589 win percentage at High Major Iowa
  • 7 NCAA appearances
  • 3 4* recruits while at UNM
  • Avg AdjT ranking of 181st
  • 1 Sweet Sixteen
  • 0 Final Fours

But I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here. He’s signed, sealed, and delivered and it’s going to be his show. BruinsNation must withhold their vitriol for a minimum three-seasons. In my opinion, at least.

The Howland firing was universally accepted as a necessary change. It doesn’t always look right on paper but a break was necessary. A lot like your college girlfriend.

Alford doesn’t fit all the buzz words like “winning the press conference” or “home run hire” but he does offer a new regime in Westwood which is what the Bruins had coming to them. And while some will tell you that he was hired in desperation, that Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens’ declining led Guerrero to jump on the first available “yes”, I’m not buying it. Who’s to say he hadn’t been in the Pitino and Donovan camps for weeks? Why wouldn’t he have been? You fire the Head Coach of the conference champ and you knew you were going to do this for awhile. Phone calls were made. Interests were felt out. Guerrero had at least an idea of which trees to bark up and at a certain juncture he barked up the Alford tree and here we are.

Change for the sake of change.

Whether he’s a good fit or a successful hire will ultimately boil down to how he fills the left column. History suggests he might struggle to do so.

I say give it time. This hire can can hold the promise of spring after a cold winter.

And it sure ain’t April Fools.

How to Survive Your Coaching Hunt

The coaching rumors have begun. From grumblings of Josh Pastner and Jamie Dixon, to Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, this is the most browser refreshing time of year.

I for one, am not jealous of those programs in the hunt. As a fan, this is the most exhausting thing and something I’ve endured far too heavily in the past decade. After all, it was my Arizona Wildcats that allowed Nic Wise to become the first and only power conference player to have four different coaches (Olson, O’Neill, Pennell, Miller) in four years. Who wants that distinction?

And then of course there was the Miller-to-Maryland threat which was one of the worst 48-hour periods of my life. There’s something to be said about stability and comfort and as it stands today – with regards to the current hunts – Dixon and Pastner have let their signatures do the talking. Each has signed extensions with their current employers ensuring they won’t go anywhere. Or something like that.

But again, take it from me, these things are awful. They’re draining and exhausting and exhilarating and terrifying. They’re a time suck and will drive you insane all to wind up with a guy who you’ll barely see in action for another half-year (#IsItNovermberYet).

Alas, here is a guide to surviving your coaching hunt:

  1. Don’t Hate – Unless the outgoing guy is leaving your program in NCAA shambles, he’s really not as bad as you think. Look at the situation holistically and if you still think he deserves your hate, then so be it. But really assert your energies on the excitement of the next guy.
  2. A “No” doesn’t mean your program totally sucks – There’s probably a long(ish) list of names your AD is going to go through and that list starts with some dream names. He’s going to get rejected. Your school is going to get rejected. You don’t suck that bad.
  3. Do not host out of town friends with no connection to college basketball – They’ll soon realize that you being on your phone has nothing to do with the forthcoming “exciting things” you have planned and that you’re just incessantly reading rumors on Twitter. Never set yourself up to be an asshole (which is more of a life rule).
  4. Be Patient –  It took Oregon a brief lifetime to find Dana Altman. These things take time. Know that your AD – or at least hope that your AD – has been on the Bat Phone for a few months now talking to intermediaries and handlers or World Wide Wes or whatever and whoever the hell else is involved in back room deals where public comments sound a lot like a Johnnie Cochran case: DENY DENY DENY!
  5. Do not sneak into a local resort and get drunk in the jacuzzi – Such a situation lends itself to extreme bouts of nostalgia and Glory-Days-syndrome. Your expectations will be unfairly heightened.
  6. Do not contact former head coaches of your school whose actions warranted NCAA sanctions and then the hiring of the firable Kevin O’Neill – Duh.
  7. Group text – Include only your core and most trusted fellow fans. You do not have to share this conversation with everyone. There’s free reign for discussion here and it’s a safe place. The trust tree…in the nest.
  8. Good Scotch – Just a solid thing to have around.
  9. 80-20 Rule – Believe 20% of what you hear is bullshit. Know that 80% of what you hear is bullshit.
  10. Do not start a plane tracking thread – This is just borderline insane. Your time will be better suited by starting a rumor about a coach’s wife dealing with a local real estate agent. Even that’s weird. In fact, just don’t be a rumor starter. Laugh at those ridiculous rumors publicly and refer back to Rule #7 for discussion.
  11. Your program might not be as tight as you think – Otherwise you wouldn’t be hunting for a coach.
  12. Believe – Give unbridled support to the coach you hire. He’s excited about the opportunity and we can all, for at least one brief press conference, believe that coach’s aren’t hired to be fired and that this guy just might outdo Wooden.
  13. The Basketball season will start at the same time next year – And your team is likely to not be very good.
  14. If your school is a public institution, apply – By law, any state school has to open all state funded positions to the general public (or some other legal jargon way of saying it). Find the job posting on your school’s website and apply. What’s the worst that could happen?
  15. Mike Krzyzewski at Army – 9-17 when he was hired away from that institution. The rest is a pain in everyone’s ass.
  16. Do not trust the following:
  • Message board contributors who’s screen name resembles something like [insert team name]Fan4Lyfe[insert year of school’s best season]
  • Tweets from person’s with fewer than 1k followers
  • Coaches:

On Ben Howland and the UCLA Job

Honestly my first reaction was sadness. I did not enjoy seeing Ben Howland and the program he led and the manner in which he led it so widely chastised and considered ruinous.

And I understand the nature of this beast. It’s a business of immediate criticisms with many anonymous critics free to spout whatever they wish from behind the security of a screen name. Also a lot of very public critics.

But I suppose what I find so interesting about this now vitriolic UCLA fan base – now encouraging their former coach to not let the door hit him on the way out – has been their insistence on replacing “Coach.” To ensure that there is a head figure to carry forth the program of Coach, with the principles of the pyramid bound to their mind and inscribed across his heart.

Ben Howland is a helluva basketball coach. Somewhere along the line he lost his way as the elite guy he swiftly proved himself to be; but, as evident by this season’s Pac-12 championship, he didn’t stray too far from what exactly he is: a terrific basketball coach.As it unfortunately were, he did not have the energy to carry the torch of the past; to embody the man (Wooden) whom he is not, was not, and will not be. An exhausting task to compete with the ghosts of the past.

But as I said, there is a beast to this industry and so, when expectations realistic or otherwise are not met, the beast rears its ugly head and axes are swung.

I’m not trying to make an argument here for keeping Ben Howland. It’s become clear that he is not the right man, right now, to be the lead at UCLA. His time had run its course. There was little enthusiasm in Westwood and Howland seemed to be doing very little to instill excitement in the program surrounding his on-court product. It would appear that both parties are best suited with a fresh start.

Which might be exactly what the UCLA program needs: A fresh start. And I’m not talking about simply a new coach. John Wooden will never be replaced. He can and should be respected and remembered are revered but no man will be successful in any venture mimicking another. The Bruins are about to acquire a very good coach. A man with an impressive resume and the utmost respect for the job he’s inheriting. But for him to be successful, for him to truly uphold the principles of “Coach’s Program,” he will have to be his own man. Whatever that is, he will adhere to his own principles and succeed by his own strengths. He will win because, in his own right, is good.

Ben Howland will take a season or so off and find his way into a new position somewhere and likely be very successful there. He’ll find little appreciation for his ten seasons in Westwood (the longest tenure since Wooden) but he should sleep well at night knowing he’s good at what he does: Coach basketball.

May his next venture allow him to do such.

May UCLA’s next venture allow someone to succeed.

Week 10 Pac-12 Basketball Preview

Read it, don’t weep, at ryanrecker.com, along with a bevy of podcast goodies.

This is the finale. The last Weekend Preview we’ll read, the end of the regular season, the close of a forgettable year. But you know what?

It’s March.

The Madness is here and this is why – no matter how bad the early losses to South Dakota State, Loyola Marymount, Wyoming, or Seattle-Pacific sting – we kept watching. For the shots that fall a blink before zero and the names that are called on Sunday afternoon and for that mad Thursday and Friday where a two-hour lunch break is gone in a flash. To rationalize our favorite 12-seed winning it all and to become irrationally lost in a close game and to lose your five bucks in the office pool to Diane in HR who just thought Shaka Smart was cute. For one shining moment.

Yes, this is the greatest of the twelve months for all of those reasons and more.

Get excited. Get rowdy. Get some time off work.

The finale.

TV Complaint: Seventy-five percent of Thursday’s games will not be televised. This is undoubtedly a complainable offense but let’s re-frame it. Life’s better if we can twist things into something a little more bright so I will remind you – as Thursday’s sole televised game is a mega-matchup – that this evening’s broadcast shorcomings will be the last. Indeed this final weekend is the final weekend of regular season Pac-12 basketball (or football or baseball or water polo or gymnastics or underwater basket weaving) that we will ever endure sans the Pac-12 Network. Take a moment to turn this on and celebrate for a moment. No doubt you’ve followed the commentary but I’ll remind you that Larry Scott will be putting every regular season basketball and football game on television. No more hacking networks, radio pirating, or twitter fiending. Your games shall be yours. Rejoice.

Game of the Weekend: No buildup here. Colorado heads to Oregon to play, straight up, for a spot in the top four. We won’t discredit Saturday’s games when the Buffs travel to Corvallis and Ducks host the Utes, but Thursday’s game has major post-season ramifications. Should the Buffs win – their first major road win of the season in the final weekend – they’ll secure themselves the four seed (of course assuming the road sweep which is no easy task) as they would drop the tie-breaker to Arizona. If Dana’s Ducks win, they’ll wind up the three seed as they hold the tie-breaker over the Wildcats. But enough about standings, hypotheticals, and making asses out of ourselves, this is going to be a good one. We’ve outlined what’s at stake so now recall that Boyle’s Boys previously beat the Ducks on a “controversial” foul in the final seconds, sending Oregon home bitter. The rematch is on a bigger stage, with tangible outcomes and is the first big game in March. Doesn’t get any better than this.

Game to Avoid: Every game that doesn’t have top-four implications. Sorry, but if you don’t have a chance to dance then the season’s over. By all means I expect the teams to maintain their competitive spirit and try their best; channel their inner non-Bruin and show up. But that doesn’t mean you have to. Your time is precious and act accordingly. The current TV deal’s swan song will make most of this easy for you but don’t bother logging on to usctrojans.com to take in the USC-WSU game. Ignore the UCLA-WSU or Utah-OSU games, too. Beyond that avoidable triumvirate, every other game has Pac-12 (or bigger) tournament seeding ramifications. Down to the wire.

Something to Prove: A strong showing this weekend could put the Oregon Ducks in the Big Dance. Beating Colorado tonight will nearly guarantee them the third seed and a first round bye. But here’s the deal. Oregon has the second highest RPI (48 vs. Cal’s 37) and dances in six different bracket projections. I won’t spell out their tournament resume but know that these guys are intriguing and dangerous with an impending conference tournament to play. A tournament that could prove deal making – even without running the table – for the Ducks. But don’t mistake intrigue and opportunity for the red carpet. Sweeping the visiting Ski Trippers and making a run through staples is imperative and difficult. It’s a fragile destiny but one that Dana and his Ducks could control. Of course we need to hat tip here to the Buffs as they too have an equal shot to make some noise. If nothing else, Boyle and company can aggressively plant the CU flag on Pac-12 Mountain.

Something to Lose: Once the darlings of the downtrodden conference, California is coming off a semi-surprising loss to Colorado, sits alone in second place and should they lose on Sunday to Stanford – a place they’re 1-3 the last four years – Monty’s Crew could find their way to fourth place (I cannot fully substantiate that claim without extensive tie-breaker research but it’s semi-feasible and highly dramatic). It’s no time to panic in Berkeley but things have undoubtedly been brighter especially considering its felt as if the Bears controlled their destiny much of this season. I really can’t see Cal playing their way out of the Big Dance but the Bears could stand to piece together a nice little closing run. If for no other reason than their own sanity.

Weekend Youtuber: It’s time.

Pac-12 Week 2 Review

I should just have wordpress auto-populate the following lede for any and every weekend review I post:

Predictably unpredictable, the Pac-12 Conference season trudged on like the Man and the Boy in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: navigating an apocalyptic world while clinging to the slightest shred of belief that they, themselves are “good.”

But despite the current onslaught of one-bid league talk and point-and-giggles, it is what it is and your team’s got a shot so long as they’re not a Ute, Trojan, or Sun Devil. And ultimately, having a shot is what it’s all about.

Also bear in mind that Tim Tebow never beat a Pac-12 school (irrelevant that he never played one).

Leader in the Clubhouse: Colorado, duh. The Buffs sit atop the conference standings as the only undefeated team. Of course they’re also the only team that has yet to play a road game but that shouldn’t take anything away from Tad Boyle’s group. Few people want to or will hop on this band wagon, but it is worth noting that Colorado has won their three conference games by an average margin of 23 points. They may not be the favorite but the Ski Trip cannot be taken lightly anymore.

Game of the Weekend: Well this one’s easy. Stanford and Oregon State’s quadruple overtime thriller takes the cake. Watch some exciting stuff here. This was a grossly painful loss for the Beavers who’d kicked their weekend off right with a solid win over Cal and a shot at making it a brutal weekend for the Bay Area schools as Stanford had lost on Thursday. Alas, it wasn’t in the cards (pun!) and Craig Robinson finds himself in an unfortunately familiar position at the bottom of the Pac. But 11th place is new so that’s kinda cool?

The Big Loser: The Washington Huskies took the Pac-12’s innagural ski trip to swiftly demonstrate to everyone just how disappointing they are. After an exciting sweep of the Oregon schools and a moderate return to the hype machine, Lorenzo’s team caught an edge (ski reference!) and face planted in front of the hot ski instructor on work exchange from Switzerland. And now I’ll return to the afore-used “disappointed.” I want more from this Huskie team. I’ve been a bit down on them for awhile and Romars roller coaster season’s have been frustrating to watch during these down years of Pac hoops. The talent has been there and it comes as no surprise to me that his teams have played well in tournaments (back-to-back Pac-10 tournament titles and a Sweet Sixteen). I therefore wouldn’t be shocked, in the least, to see this team playing its best ball when their back is against the wall. It’s just too bad that’s what it may take.

What We Learned: I think I’ve been saying it for a bit in some capacity but let’s make it traceable: an 8-1 home record and 5-4 road record will win this conference. That’s 13-5, you’d have beaten every team at least once, and hopefully swept Utah, USC, and ASU. A loss to any of those three schools very well could be the kiss of death but my overarching point is teams must follow the current pattern and win at home. The home team is 14-6 thus far with Utah and USC accounting for three of those losses (ASU has yet to play at home which is probably OK because no one is going to attend anyway: 4805 average attendance). I saw someone dropped the stat that there were only four BCS schools with losing records at this point in the season. Our aforementioned cellar dwellers accounted for 75% of that foursome. Look, it’s going to be a long season for any and all of the Pac-12 schools but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an intriguing aspect to the whole thing. The beauty of college basketball is that you can play your way into that mad little event in March and then anything can happen. Just ask Shaka Smart or Bill Self. Or Tim Tebow.

Start Your Week YouTuber: Hey, just like a Pac-12 home team, all he does is win, win, win…